Artist creates work by ‘recycling in finest form’

Guest Author:
Jessica Lutjemeyer
Published On:
Thursday, April 23, 2009
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Kevin Caron didn’t know that a privacy screen would make him a nationally known artist.

But it did. And he has big expectations.

“A piece in Great Britain, a piece in Europe, 20 in Japan, one in Australia, that’d be cool,” Caron said. “Even if they’re just bugs.”

The artist creates metal sculptures ranging from large-scale trees that require a crane to lift to drastically smaller ants, caterpillars and centipedes.

Caron’s career started with a privacy screen he made to hide his garbage can and backyard junk. He later turned it into a fountain.

His friends were impressed and wanted their own, so he traded his finished work for a box of clothes, and free haircuts for a year from his hairdresser.

Caron said he uses steel in his work, a material that was once iron oxide that came from the ground. With his artwork, he is putting the elements back into the ground.

“It’s recycling in its finest form,” the 49-year-old artist said.

One of his most recent projects includes a 14-foot by 12-foot tree for an Old Town Avondale park, which is probably his largest. The tree is comprised of tree bark rod, which is embossed at the mill, and the leaves are the traced hands of 200 people, which flow freely in the wind.

He is also working on two sculptures for himself and has a plan to build some gates in Colorado City.

His loud-yet-unassuming studio, built in 1947, may lead one to believe that it is still a car repair shop.

From the street, the building probably looks much like it did 62 years ago. But Caron said he likes it to be deceiving.

He doesn’t want people to know what he’s doing, though he figures the neighbors must know by now he’s doing something else because of all the noise.

The studio has no telephone, Internet or TV. When Caron is there, with an idea or an already-begun project, he is there to work, and often just wants to be left alone.

Caron spends four to five days a week in the studio, and said he is conscious of his deadlines.

Part of his business plan is to take every Friday afternoon off and go on at least one motorcycle ride per month. In 2009, that has yet to happen.

Caron is too busy working, he said.

His wife, Mary Westheimer, encourages him to take time off, but says it’s difficult for the two of them to do so.

Though he works hard, “Kevin is living the life every artist dreams of,” Westheimer said.

His metalworking initially began as a weekend hobby for about three years, before he became a full-time artist in December 2005.

Before that, Caron ran a foreign-car repair shop for 12 years, and then worked as a truck driver.

However, he suffered from road rage but his boss would not take him off the road.

Caron has no formal training in the arts and is entirely self-taught. He knew how to do very basic welding from high school and a little from his time in the military, he said.

His artwork has progressed in a tremendous way, Westheimer said. Early on, his work was fun, but not anywhere near the caliber it is now. He has moved away from fountains and toward more sculptural and dimensional pieces, pushing the envelope and forcing himself.

Aside from his word-of-mouth success, he began a Web site, which Westheimer runs. The site has generated anywhere from $35,000 to $40,000 in commissions.

She also handles marketing and proposals, and follows up on potential clients.

About 60 percent of Caron’s pieces are for commission, while the other 40 percent is done for him. However, all of his work is for sale. Caron said he doesn’t have a piece that he would never get rid of.

His favorite piece is probably Torsional Twist, which he said needs a good home. The steel sculpture stands 86 inches tall, featuring waves of oranges and reds. Beginning from the platform it stands upon, Torsional Twist gently curves, ending with a flat top that points outward.

Caron said he would like to do more projects that require the use of a crane. He currently has several pieces that he’d love to see at full, outdoor size.

Because inspiration has no alarm clock, he keeps a paper pad and pen next to his bed, so that he can sketch his ideas when they come to him.

“At 2 a.m., [the idea] looks exactly like what’s in my head,” he said. “But, not at 6 a.m., so into the trash it goes.”

Reach the reporter at jlutjeme@asu.edu.