written by Lee Lewis Husk. photos by Talia Jean Galvin
Chris Cole’s kinetic art transforms discarded metal and bike parts into wondrous moving creatures.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the luxury department store, Barneys New York, wouldn’t seem to have much in common. Yet, they share an aesthetic that converges on a quiet back street of Bend, where sculptor Chris Cole transforms new and salvaged metal scraps and discarded objects into fantastic works of kinetic art.
Thousands of New Yorkers and holiday shoppers this past December got to see “Patterson,” a mechanized and metallic owl sculpture nestled in a holiday window display at Barneys’ f lagship store on Madison Avenue. The six-and-a-half- foot, 500-pound bird rotated its head, ruffled its feathers, told tales and peered back at the crowd through its motorcycle headlight eyes. Cole isn’t sure how the iconic department store found him, but he was honored to receive the commission. At the opening, Cole said he loved watching New York bike messengers screech to a stop and take pictures of the owl.
When the gig was over, Barneys returned ownership of the sculpture to Cole, who found an eager buyer among an existing collector, Ripley’s. The owl will eventually entertain visitors at the San Francisco Ripley’s on Fisherman’s Wharf.
“Basically, Ripley’s buys funky art and interactive pieces,” he said, adding that the owl is the tenth motorized sculpture the international franchise has bought from him. His kinetic sculptures run by electric motor or hand crank; the owl, his largest piece yet, has five motors running its parts.
As a former bike mechanic and self-described tinkerer, Cole started drilling, tapping and welding leftover bike parts and other objects into sculptures in the late ’90s—“just for the fun of it,” he said. Today he works from an old school bus parked in his backyard. The bus is lined with bins of bicycle gears, chains, spokes, hubs, motorcycle parts, even artificial human limbs.
Cole draws inspiration from the convergence of the natural and industrial worlds. “I’m an outdoorsy person, which contrasts with my work—machines, motors, electronics and all these recycled objects,” he said. His portfolio of paintings, sketches, and kinetic sculptures features many different creatures, but fish are his favorite. “I love the body shape of fish,” he said. He evokes Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of flying machines as an influence on his bird sculptures and drawings.
Appreciation for his art is growing among collectors and museums. He currently exhibits at RiverSea Gallery in Astoria and R E Welch Gallery in Seattle. His kinetic sculptures sell for an average $10,000, with some going for as much as $22,000, giving the 45-year-old Bend resident the opportunity to spend most of his time pursuing his passions— tinkering in his studio and camping on the Oregon Coast.