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  Featured Artist
 

Sal Gullo

Photo credits: Oli Robbins
Sal Gullo at work in his Placitas studio

c. Sal Gullo

Sunflower and ladybug sculptures, by Sal Gullo

An alchemist of sorts: Sal Gullo’s scrap to sculpture

—Oli Robbins

In 1917, French Dada artist Marcel Duchamp made (art) history by declaring that a porcelain urinal could, in fact, be a work of fine art. He entered the urinal in an art exhibition, but it was rejected—despite the fact that the exhibition committee had promised to accept all works of art submitted. Duchamp’s so-called Fountain was refused on the grounds that it was not art; ironically, it has come to exemplify the anti-art movement and Duchamp’s gesture was seminal in fueling the “what is art?” debate. I was recently reminded of the Duchamp scandal when viewing Placitian Sal Gullo’s “scrap to sculpture” artwork.

Gullo, like Duchamp before him, takes objects that have an identity beyond the art realm, and transforms them into works of art. But whereas Duchamp oftentimes found objects and labeled them art, Gullo creates animal characters and other figurative objects from scratch. He pieces together scraps—usually mechanical—that “aren’t meant to go together at all.”

Artist-handyman Gullo was rarely exposed to art as a child, growing up in Long Island alongside cars and tools in an automobile repair shop run by his grandfather and father—the tools of whom Gullo uses daily. “I have a mechanical background,” says Gullo. “There I was, a grease monkey, out of school, playing in the shop.” He coupled his hands-on experiences with electronic and computer training, and has worked in the aerospace industry. Though he never received traditional art schooling, Gullo admits that art is simply “something that’s a part of me.” Always interested in assembling machinery, Gullo is now intrigued by “putting something together to make it either produce something or do something it shouldn’t do for no reason or purpose.”

“I’ve always been a dabbler,” says Gullo, “producing functional things for need, like a doorway or a small workbench or cart.” His predilection for making and fixing functional things organically gave way to an interest in non-traditional art, wherein those functional things assume new existence relating to other once-functional things in a work of art. Why not make something that works that’s also aesthetically pleasing?

“I started liking to put things together so as to enhance its functionality and charm,” says Gullo, whose garage/studio is teaming with fanciful ladybugs made out of freon barrels and birds comprised of old saw blades and gears. He explains that the majority of his materials were “destined for scrap metal,” but he altered their fate by incorporating them into works of art. “Recycle, upcycle, whatever you want to call it”—Gullo takes the old and makes it new. He laughs when explaining that one wouldn’t imagine engine pieces could provide so many options for the body parts of a bird. And he loves a challenge. “When people tell me ‘you can’t do that,’ I say ‘give me a chance!’”

Gullo, and his wife Deborah, who runs YogaCrossroads—a yoga studio (crafted by Gullo himself)—have lived in Placitas for 12 years. Their home is, itself, a work of art, and a work in continual progress, rarely going a season without being altered in some way. Since moving to New Mexico, Gullo has become more prolific, using more of his time to create. Our state has provided Gullo with not only time, but also inspiration. Some of his recent pieces draw on native creatures and the Placitas landscape.

Even those of us who can’t identify a crankshaft or a bearing will notice things like license plates, beer bottle caps, and wine bottles peeking out of Gullo’s whimsical works. Gullo recently made a series of snakes, the bodies of which are comprised of a metal wire, welded at one end, threaded through hundreds of beer bottle caps. He confesses to amassing a great deal of beer bottle caps on his own, but his collection is also indebted to both his son in Florida—who recently gave him two one-gallon zip lock bags full of beer bottle caps—and John at the Placitas Café, who saves them for him. Gullo has acquired a reputation for taking the unwanted. His friends and family will save certain pieces of their trash for him, knowing he’ll turn them into treasures.

It is difficult to succinctly categorize Gullo’s art. His works sit outside the traditional canon of fine art because his materials once had non-art, functional roles, and the finished works themselves offer the viewer a very physical—and often interactive—relationship. His work is not delicate, and one does not stand at a distance from it, looking but not touching. Instead, they are encouraged to feel and even play with the work itself. The snakes, for example, can be twisted to adopt a variety of different personas. The flowers on his large-scale sunflower statue—comprised entirely of scrap metal pieces, including an old colander, saw blades, and engine cooling fans—can be moved to spin like a wheel and blow in the wind. Gullo merges the worlds of art and life. I’m reminded of Robert Rauschenberg’s infamous statement that he tries to act in “the gap between art and life.” An alchemist of sorts, Gullo doesn’t just represent real-life objects, he uses them, giving them new meaning in fanciful works of art.

Visit Gullo’s website, www.scraptosculpture.com to view his images and contact the artist. A few of his pieces are also on display at Arte de Placitas gallery.

 
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