Full Metal Alchemists | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Full Metal Alchemists

COMAG Returns for its annual show

The Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild has been putting on shows in Bend for over 20 years, and each year the creations become more and more experimental, fearless and breathtaking. I've gone to their full-on art show at the Oxford several times over the eight years they've been putting it on and I'm never left with anything other than amazement over what the artists are capable of creating with fire, metal and passion.

COMAG show director Goph Albitz started making jewelry in Big Sur, California, 55 years ago, followed by a shop and showroom in Carmel, all before moving to Bend in 1997 and becoming a part of the Guild since the very beginning in 1999.

Full Metal Alchemists
Courtesy of Goph Albitz
Metal artist Anton Yakushev stands with his creation, Winnie.

"It started out as a group of jewelers getting together over beers and sharing techniques and grievances," says Albitz. "It was more of a social club than an artist guild. As it grew, we added blacksmiths and sculptors and became a Metal Arts Guild...more than just jewelers."

I asked Albitz why metal appealed to him the most. His answer was lovely, and voluminous.

"Metal, may it be gold, silver, copper or steel," Albitz said. "The permanence of your creation, the way it takes to polishing to a high-shine finish or a heavily textured finish, then you can change the color to the highlights with patinas. The many processes that can be used to achieve what you have imagined or precisely designed; direct fabrication, where you form by hammers, saws, gravers and burnishers is my favorite way to work metal."

Full Metal Alchemists
Courtesy of Goph Albitz
Winnie contemplating existence.

His process continues to evolve just as he evolves as an artist. "My current designs are a multiple-step process where I force an ingot of gold or silver through a power mill until it begins to deconstruct, then letting the crumbling, cracked metal show me the focal point of the piece I'm making," he said. "Then adding multiple layers of 22k gold, building up a crust, and then deciding how best to embellish the metal with gems and diamonds. Most jewelers approach from the opposite direction: choosing the stone and designing the metal around them."

One of the highlights of this year's show is "Winnie," an eight-foot-tall giraffe, completely hand forged and created directly in the steel by artist Anton Yakushev. I can't wait to see Winnie in person, because the photos instantly put a smile on my face. Yakushev (much in the same way as Albitz) has metalwork in his blood. "I realized that metal shaped my thoughts and I was destined to transform them into reality when I started working as a blacksmith," explains Yakushev. "During my years studying art at the university, I began to experiment with different processes in metal. My curiosity of the material and all the ways I could transform it led me to invent my own techniques and creative approaches to this cultural medium."

Yakushev doesn't have a "one-size-fits-all" approach to his creations, though. "The only artistic devices I engage throughout my work are experimentation and improvisation," he says. "I am not fixed by any intentional, precise or stylistic process. So much depends on the artistic idea. The only technique and material that I permanently dedicate myself to is that all my sculptures are hand forged only and from steel."

Full Metal Alchemists
Courtesy of Goph Albitz
Winnie shown in progress.

Each artist, whether a writer or a painter or a member of the Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild, has their own reasons for creation. For some, it's therapy, for others a compulsion to make the thing they see or feel inside become a part of the physical world. When I asked Yakushev what he hoped his art inspired in others, he gave me an answer that I think doesn't just describe his own process of creation, but something that touches on the reasons why all artists instinctively have to create: "I love to create independent and isolated worlds for my heroes that are dreams, cloud land cities and otherworld realities where nothing is impossible. Aside from other themes and styles that may be engaged, the thing that truly holds all my art series together is my enduring love and humanism. This is what drives me to create."

COMAG show

Fri., Aug. 26-Sun., Aug 28

Oxford Hotel Ballroom

10 Minnesota Ave, Bend.

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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