I never knew the imaginative power contained in precarious piles of scrap metal, not until I visited Kevin Caron for a tour of his metal art studio.
I’m there on warm weekday morning. And it’s about to get warmer, because where Caron works his magic, there is no air conditioning. A mechanic, now retired, built the garage in 1947, piecing it together bit by bit. Caron, a former truck driver who bought the property and moved his art studio there in 2006, has since put his own mark on the place, emptying it of cars and filling it up with machinery he uses to bend, cut, grind, sand and weld pieces of metal into sculptural works of art. He’s also remodeled and expanded an office into an air-conditioned gallery for open houses that, with his wife and office manager Mary Westheimer, he schedules twice a year. That’s also where he goes to work on drawings, eat lunch and escape from the heat in the garage. On the wall hang a calendar girl or two, perhaps a throwback to the building’s days as a working auto shop.
Located on a cottonwood tree-lined section of 40th Street, south of the trendy Il Postino/La Grande Orange, the studio sits adjacent to the Rancho Ventura Historic Neighborhood. Visitors turn east into a gravel parking lot and drive past a chain link fence that separates Caron’s tenant, a separate auto mechanic’s garage, from Caron’s space.
The artist, dressed in long sleeves and pants to protect his skin from flying sparks of heat, metal particles or fire, steps away from a work bench crammed with hand tools to greet me with a friendly handshake when I enter one of his three open garage doors. Next to the tool room with 11 welding machines is a wall with dozens of vice grips. Above it, a sign quotes Degas, “Art is not what you see but what others make you see.”
The words come to mind when we head out back beyond a corrugated tin awning that shades a forklift (named “Stinky,” he says, because it runs on propane) for moving heavy material and sculpture. Here sits the bulk of Caron’s art supplies—an accumulating scrap heap of aluminum, compressed gas tanks, structural beams, random white scroll brackets, an old sign stand he found in the weeds on the property.
“I use that to advertise our open house tours,” he says.
I’m skeptical about the possibility in rusty iron rods, wheel axels and shimmering plates of aluminum. But he sees a lawn ornament, the base for a sculpture or parts of a mobile.
Pointing at something on the ground across the yard, he says, “See those metal steps? They come from a spiral staircase. I might use them as tail feathers of a peacock.”
Caron’s been custom-building metal art long enough that all he has to do is look at a piece of metal, and he can spot his next project—a bell chime, the curves of a woman’s body, something in nature. He commissions to cities, collectors and one-offs, charging several thousand dollars in some cases, for artwork that might be erected outside a government building, added to a private collection or placed in a client’s back yard. He has several in his own.
What looks like a hoarder’s mess to me is organized efficiency to him. His long stock—rods, rebar and full metal pipe—rest on shelves near the building, in piles that face a long narrow door he’s cut into the studio wall. He opens the door from inside and drags a rod through the space, showing me that it leads right into a chop saw for cutting thin rods. He has a horizontal band saw for cutting pipe.
An estimated half a million dollars worth of equipment is inside his Phoenix studio, including a shearer for long, square cuts that he operates with his foot. His work bench includes a shelf underneath for project storage. The 1 ¼-inch metal tabletop can hold up to 1,200 pounds and is used for welding.
“I can weld a sculpture right to the table for support. When I’m done, I just cut it off.”
He makes things out of found material either he’s discovered or friends find for him. Sometimes he buys the junk, like the four barrels full of railroad spikes out in the yard. They come in handy if someone wants a metal saguaro or ocotillo.
Caron not only creates his magic by hand but also on film. He’s known for his YouTube video tutorials. In fact, equipment manufacturers send him free equipment if he’ll use it in his videos. He does, using it to teach technique and safety procedures. “I teach whatever people ask about. I get a lot of requests,” he says.
Some might say this space is a man’s dream workshop, but Caron says women love to work with the equipment, too, especially welding, which is why he offers one-on-one workshops ($350 for six hours of one-on-one with the artist on a project of your choice). Past students have learned how to weld, blacksmith, shape and bend metal, or even work on a specific art project to take home.
Pearson & Company in Scottsdale
Vision Gallery in Chandler
Van Gogh’s Ear in Prescott
The gift shop at Shemer Art Center sells his 3D jewelry.
For more information, visit KevinCaron.com or call (602) 952-8767.
About the author: Jackie Dishner
Jackie Dishner, author of Backroads & Byways of Arizona, lives in northeast Phoenix. She writes about relationships, travel and wellness for outlets such as American Way, grandparents.com, and Wine Enthusiast.