With shimmering colors and surfaces encrusted like artifacts dug up from the earth, metal arts created by David Bacharach seem magically lost in time. A modern-day alchemist with a degree in biochemistry, he has been exploring the properties of metal for more than four decades.
Bacharach vividly recalls a Eureka moment 20 years ago, during a visit to “The Search for Alexander” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. Among the treasures arrayed from antiquity, bronze armor “with an amazing patina” caught his eye. He thought, “That’s the kind of color I want to do.”
Back in his studio, he began formulating his own patinas, exploring the tonal and textural possibilities of copper. “It took tons of chemical experiments to develop shades of greens and blues, and to control heat for warm reds and oranges. Those experiments haven’t stopped,” he says. “There’s always a reason to push forward to try something else.”
Bacharach now combines tinted lacquers and paints with traditional finishes. Using solutions with very little pigment, he slowly builds four to 20 layers of wash to get the desired color density. “It’s more interesting than using solid colors,” he says. “It mimics the action of patina that has depth.”
These surface treatments add further dimension to his hand-woven copper sculptures and wall pieces, which have evolved over the years from functional baskets and vessels to Judaica objects, modular seating and, recently, wall
compositions installed in wood frames.
Bacharach’s commissioned work expands in scale and scope. A bronze and copper fountain and accompanying wall piece are underway for the garden of a private home in Catonsville, Maryland. More monumental, a series of squares ranging from warm to cool tones stretches like a rainbow along a 40-foot hall at the IRS building in New Carrollton, Maryland.
The metalsmith has created an eternal light and ark to hold the Torah for an eco-conscious synagogue in Chicago, as well as processional crosses for an Episcopal Church in Baltimore. His many commercial projects include the interior design and fabrication of Amy’s Boutique on Federal Hill in Baltimore.
An early commission from federal interior designers outfitting U.S. embassies marked a turning point for Bacharach. They admired his large baskets, but needed flat pieces. “They wanted something in a distinctly American vernacular, and I thought of quilts,” he says. His idea for making smaller components that can be easily shipped and assembled began a technique he continues today.
While Bacharach’s heart has always belonged to fine art—at age 16 he participated in the American Craft Council’s first show—he started out on a different career track: dentistry. But after teaching dentistry at the University of Maryland for a dozen years, while juggling a private practice and part-time job as a metals instructor at Maryland Institute College of Art, he concluded without nostalgia, “That’s it. I can only do one thing.”
Now the craftsman often can be found happily working outdoors between his studio and wood-sided house in Cockeysville, Maryland. He thinks through designs while fabricating, bolting, welding or weaving strips hand-cut from copper sheets. Found objects, including children’s building blocks or bottles, occasionally find their way into his rectangular designs, sealed with lacquer.
Tall and burly with a graying beard, Bacharach chuckles often and his eyes twinkle. His commanding yet gentle presence suggests a bemused conjurer on the cusp of new discoveries. As he puts it: “On any given day, I’m skating on the line between sculpture and painting.”
Writer Tina Coplan is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
For more information on David Bacharach, call 410-252-0546 or visit www.bacharachmetals.com. Bacharach will exhibit his work at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore’s Convention Center from February 25 to 28, 2010.