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World-Renowned Artist Chooses Glass, Steel and Welding and Cutting Equipment From Miller to Create Large Scale Sculptures, Part 1 of 3

STRETCH demonstrates the ease with which he sets his Diversion® 180 AC/DC TIG welder.

When does metal collide with art? In the case of STRETCH, a world-renowned artist, metalworker and sculptor living in Kansas City, the collision involves a unique set of circumstances-very unique. He looks at surrounding architecture and uses the same surrounding natural materials so that his pieces flow with the environment. According to STRETCH, "The end result is an integral piece designed to fit the project, complimenting the space in a balanced equilibrium."

The artist's choice of materials-glass and steel-is not just a personal preference. He believes that glass and steel work against each other, "causing tension while maintaining a high level of dialogue." The dialogue is meant to educate and trigger insight, as well as create a "better understanding of concepts and ideals the work embodies." STRETCH has worked with many renowned artists on public commissions for airports, college campuses and city sculpture parks around the world. He has been welding for over 25 years and has been building large-scale sculptures for more than 15 years.

One of STRETCH's large-scale sculptures in Grinders sculpture park/music venue. 

In addition to sculpting, STRETCH is actively involved in the Kansas City Community. He runs a gallery known as ZONE, as well as two restaurants called Grinders and Grinders West. The restaurants accompany a sculpture park turned live music venue, The Crossroads KC @ Grinders, which promotes artists, musicians, and benefits for non-profit organizations. (Learn more about STRETCH on Facebook and Twitter.)

His career as an artist actually goes back to his 7th-grade metal shop class. STRETCH found that by practicing good technique, he had a talent for creating things with his hands.  As a junior in high school, he began taking college art courses at the Philadelphia College of Art, where he excelled. "At that point in my life, the arts probably kept me from going to jail," says STRETCH. "Not that I was a troublemaker, but there just wasn't enough creativity in the school system to keep a suburbia kid out of trouble. So the arts really kind of saved my life."

STRETCH went on to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. "I came to the Art Institute to design toys," says STRETCH. "I was taking design classes, designing electric cord caddies and vegetable brushes. I looked across campus and the sculptors were welding steel and kicking up 20-ft. rooster tails with these grinders. I picked up my stuff, cruised over to sculpture and never went back."

And there it was, across campus, the collision he couldn't deny. He saw scaffolding, metal, huge ice blocks and light refracting through it all to create giant prisms. He asked what it was and when he was told it was a sculpture, he said, "No, sculptures are these ground down, stainless steel cube-like pieces. That was my eye opener, and that was about 25, 30 years ago," says STRETCH. "So when people ask, 'When did it start?' I say, 'It has never stopped.'"

Miller recently asked STRETCH, a life-long Miller user, to review three pieces of equipment suitable for artists, gearheads and other DIY welders. Here, he reviews the Diversion 180. In Part 2, STRETCH talks more about his choice of materials and equipment and reviews the Spectrum 375 X-TREME plasma cutter.

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Part 2 of 3: STRETCH the Sculptor and Visionary 

After his experience at the Kansas City Art Institute, STRETCH became a sculptor-and a visionary. A visionary in the world of art can be defined as an artist who can see things that don't exist in our worldly realm, whose pieces demand a higher level of perception from the observer.  In other words, his sculptures aren't just creative and representational; they push artistic boundaries and combine a variety of materials and processes to take a concept and push it into the future.

STRETCH easily carries his Spectrum 375 X-TREME plasma cutter around his studio.

"Art isn't about direct representation," says STRETCH. "As long as you have a cell phone camera, you can document whatever you want and then reproduce it in a drawing. With metal sculpting, you don't need to sit and sketch something out and reproduce it in welded steel. You want to take it to the next level by abstracting it, looking at it and dissecting what you want to get out of it. You want to capture the essence of an object; art is not about duplicating or making things exact."

STRETCH is observant, remembering more details about things he sees than most people. His blessing and curse is that he is able to store these details in the "memory bank of chaos" he calls his brain and then draw from the chaos when he creates his pieces. "I look at the world a little differently, like most artists do," says STRETCH. "It's hard to describe. Artists look at the surroundings, the environment, and determine how an object might fit into it or how it might displace something in a particular space. It's a unique situation to juggle all of these variables."

In STRETCH's world, there are ways to put sculptures together. He creates them in his mind, but the pieces exist on the outside. "I draw them, sure, but it's about how to keep them afloat, making sure they don't come crashing down to earth," says STRETCH. "Gravity works. It's one of those amazing things that you can't always fight, so I have to find a way to get my objects in the air and keep them there" (review STRETCH's work to see how he suspends thousands of pounds in the air).

A sculpture must stay up, whether it's held up with wheels, three legs or four legs; whether it's bolted together, welded together or has connections or splints.

"One thing I've learned is that there are eight million different kinds of connections," says STRETCH. "You might have a welder that can only weld a certain thickness, but you can drill to make bolt and mechanical connections so that the separate pieces will fit in your truck." STRETCH's work uses these connections in combination for both structural and aesthetic reasons.

While living in New York, STRETCH attended sculpture art shows, where, among other things, he could determine the size of an artist's studio by the size and how many pieces their sculptures were in. "If it was in 50 pieces, the sculptor lived on the eighth floor with no warehouse elevator. They had to carry it down in a little tiny elevator and then assemble the whole thing together. It's just a love of labor," says STRETCH.

For STRETCH, welding allowed him the freedom to get from point A to point B in the smoothest, fastest and safest way possible. "If I could weld just one section and carry it, great," says STRETCH. "If not, I would have to make it in several pieces connected by a variety of weld and bolt mechanical connections. You become a Rolodex of information on connections. Welding is a necessary and functional way to facilitate my ideas and get them to the next level."

In Part 3, STRETCH talks more about his choice of materials and welding equipment and reviews the Millermatic® 211 Auto-Set with MVP MIG welder.



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