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Will Allen first picked up a welding gun his junior year at Evanston Township High School. Since then, he has turned his metal sculpting hobby into a professional endeavor that includes his first commissioned project, which he completed in August.
Allen is a second-year architecture student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana and says that architecture translates his love for building into professional skills that can achieve his ultimate goal in life.
“I’m experiencing that loving what you do is no joke, it’s a must to help one be happy and enjoy life as much as possible,” Allen says.
How did you first get interested in metal sculpture?
My metal sculpture teacher, Mr. Lawrence, was very charismatic and gave students a lot of freedom in the class. This gave me the opportunity to let my creativity flow in a multi-million-dollar workspace. I had a great opportunity to express myself and spend my time making really cool products.
What was the inspiration for your first project?
My first project, outside of an assignment, was a coffee table. I did an independent study my senior year that focused on design and building. I wanted to build something that had a function. A table for my mother seemed like a good, achievable first major project.
What do you enjoy about working with metal as an art form?
I enjoy working with the properties of steel. The physical act of heating material up 3,000 degrees in less than a second and forming a bond unparalleled to that of a nail or screw is thrilling, dangerous and satisfying. The freedom of welding as a style of joinery clicked with me and ever since. I’m obsessed with the idea that metal is forever. If treated correctly, metal can last a very long time and the idea of a piece of my expression being around long after I die is exciting to me.
How did you come up with the model/idea for the local commission?
This commission was a wonderful opportunity. A lot of trust was put into me as a designer and a creative thinker. I felt challenged to fill my own shoes with a unique and original design, to design with purpose to satisfy a customer. It encompassed a lot of what I was learning in Architecture School.
The idea was formulated based on a few very broad concepts given by the client. It took some time before the form came to me. I was inspired by an artist I follow on Instagram named John Benedict. I needed help connecting my concept to the earth and his work helped me find that path.
What are some of your prime considerations when you are creating a piece of metal art?
I draw a lot more things than I actually make. When I choose a design, I project the time and effort then compare it to the image I have in my head of the product. Sometimes, there are designs that, by nature, are not worth building based on the tools and material I have. Often, my designs are driven by what I have available. Then again, I have been known to venture to inner city scrap yards – an unlikely place for a teen to go. However, working with what I got is by no means a disadvantage for me, in fact, the perimeters act as a creative challenge to make something someone would really enjoy.
What are you working on right now?
Personally, I have a privilege that allows me to avoid much of the racial injustice that’s gone on in this country for a long time. I also consider my ability to create with metal a voice, a voice that may last forever.
One of earlier projects was a hand made from thick threaded rod. The hand came out surprisingly animated and it got me interested in the body as a form for metal to take. I then created a fist, unfortunately this fist didn’t come out right and I decided to take it apart and set it aside until I knew what to do with it. Recently, an idea for a piece with a racial justice message became very achievable and I feel that I have a unique skill to send a common and underrepresented message. My plans are a cyborg-like raised fist. No matter how one chooses to see it, it will look intricate and entertaining no matter what, but the proceeds will be donated out of solidarity.
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Belinda Clarke is the alumni engagement director for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a freelance writer located in Evanston.