Scott Berels Solo Exhibition “Degradation Reservation” Debuts on May 4th

Scott Berels Solo Exhibition “Degradation Reservation” Debuts on May 4th

Scott Berels is a sculptor and visual artist living and working in Detroit, Michigan. He is also the founder of Def Fab Design, an independent fabrication workshop located in a 5000-square foot warehouse space for commercial and residential clients, as well as general contractors including CNC machining, welding, woodworking and 3D design.

His artwork is focused in cast iron, and utilizes many of the mold-making industrial and craft materials from this process in order to make non-metal sculptures and paintings. The 2D artwork that he creates is considered to be his own ‘iron casting rehab,’ which embody the residue of industrial processes present in his own metalwork practice.

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

Berels has a Bachelor Degree of Fine Art from Wayne State University in sculpture and photography where he earned numerous accolades and scholarships. He has exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions at Detroit Artist Market, Whitdel Arts Gallery, The Scarab Club, Cass Cafe, Wayne State Community Arts Gallery, 555 Gallery, Movement Festival, Detroit Design Festival, Mars Gallery Chicago Artist in Residence: Fortress Studios Detroit, Franconia Sculpture Park, and The Paradise Pour.

His upcoming solo exhibition, Degradation Reservation, addresses consumerism and human consumption of natural resources, playing on the duality between the abuse of our planet and the comfort that we seek from mass-produced products that makeup our reality. The inspiration in creating this series is the overwhelming lack of responsibility for humanity to care for our planet and the desire for convenience.

“In this series of work in this style I’ve been creating, the focus is on the patterns and the surface of the artworks.”

The geometric lines that comprise these images and forms are intended to replicate those found in architecture of the natural world, while simultaneously representing the carbon smear byproduct created by industry. These works intend to provoke ideas of our landscape and the people who inhabit them, the effects of industrialization, fueled by consumerism and the future of our planet.

He explains, “I use a piece angle iron stock to drag this metal bar and tape off sections, then lay it across the surface using spray paint to create patterns, and at the very end I pull the tape off, and that’s the precision aspect.”

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

It’s a high-stakes approach: “Unwrapping these stencil works is exciting because you don’t know what you have until you peel it off. I compare it to iron-casting and mold-making because sometimes you don’t even know if you have anything until you crack it open, and you’re like, ‘oh man- this mold completely failed, and I’m out a couple hundred dollars and a months worth of work…’ but it’s the nature of the beast.”

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

I started making more ephemeral things and caste iron- stuff that I didn’t care about if it came out, and made more abstract things and patterns that are quick and easy to make.

“The duality for me [in making 2D works] is utilizing the same fabrication techniques and some of the material without it actually being fabrication.”

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?  

I knew I wanted to be an artist in high school. In 9th grade, I would skip class and go make drawings in the art room. Sometimes there were other classes in session and everyone knew I wasn’t supposed to be there. The teacher was soon to retire and a good teacher, but he didn’t care that I was there, or that I was breaking rules. The hall monitors and principles felt differently. This was set the path for me in a sense. At first, it seemed like a clever way to get out of class without actually leaving the school. I later realized I had a unique direction in my life, and making art became very important to me. My parents were very creative people and they were supportive of just about anything creative that I wanted to pursue.

Scott Berels. Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

What are some of the highlights throughout your career as a working artist?

I’m just excited that I get to choose what I’m doing with my day. Running a business is apparently very difficult, but I prefer that over punching in to a clock. The gratification that comes with accomplishing tasks that were previously unimaginable and very intimidating feels like climbing a mountain. You get to look back at what you did and be like, ‘wow- that was hard, fun, painful and rewarding.’ You take that with you and apply it to everything else you do. To have the confidence to look at a project or a mountain and say, “Yeah, I can do that,” —  this is very empowering.

I’ve built two permanent outdoor CorTen steel sculptures that felt like I had climbed a mountain once they were completed which include the Russell Thayers Sundial Gnomon in Rochester, Michigan and Judith Hoffmans, “American Dream” house sculpture in Portland, Maine. Both of these sculptures had municipal events scheduled around the unveiling of each piece, so I had hard deadlines and time in each of these cases were the ‘mountain.’ Aside from time, the actual tons of steel and the heights involved were second in comparison, each as their own mountain..

What concept, theme and medium are you most interested in?

I like to work in many materials, and my skills and knowledge span across many mediums—

Metal picked me though.

When I was 20, my father left me a MIG welder and told me just to make something cool with it. After he passed away, I wanted to honor his wishes, but I didn’t know how to use the machine. I was enrolled in a local community college taking art classes already so I signed up to take sculpture welding with Ray Katz. I absolutely loved the shop studio environment: from the heat, to the grime, to the attitude of the tool crib tech, I was hooked. He ended up giving me an A in the class after making about a dozen small sculptures, a medium sized sculpture and a chair, and also gave me a job working with him in his studio. Working with him was short-lived unfortunately due to a back injury I had.

Scott Berels. Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj for the Artists and Artisans Project.

It wasn’t until years later that I got into metal casting at Wayne State University. This is where my love for metal happened. Cast bronze and aluminum were my mediums, until my first iron pour. It was then that I found a spiritual sort of connectedness to the materials, the process and the collaboration.

I’m interested in work that displays exceptional craftsmanship. I enjoy work made in metal, but specifically sculpture work that has 3D and digitally designed elements. I particularly appreciate any work that has an organic quality mixed with high-polished elements. I am a big fan of anything that involves technology and electronics. I also really like artwork that has social commentary, and relates to the human condition.

Scott Berels. Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj for the Artists and Artisans Project.

What is it about working with metal that is of most interest to you?  

There are so many different types and techniques that can be applied when working with metal. It tends to be very forgiving as far as fixing mistakes and repairing. But what is most satisfying is the permanence of a finished object. I’ve built objects that can and potentially will stand the test of time. There is also a primal connection to it. Specifically during the melting/casting and forming processes. There is alchemy to working with material in all if its states and it takes wizardry to do it with speed and finesse.

My favorite part of all of it is the actual welding part: I really feel like a wizard when I combine two chunks of metal together by controlling a tiny molten ball of metal.

Scott Berels. Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj for the Artists and Artisans Project.

My biggest challenge when working with metal is transportation and equipment. I’m always coming up with some sort of trick in order to achieve what I want without having all the tools I need. With large projects, I don’t always get to test assemble prior to being on-site which means you have to get it right on the first try. If I had a larger space and a crane, that would make my projects run smoother.

How long do your sculptures take to create from concept to execution?

My process normally begins with preliminary sketches and a physical model. Sometimes I like to go right into Rhino to make a 3D file. From there I pull all the information needed to figure out how to build the project and how to price it. This helps in the design stages as well as in the shop during fabrication. Every project is different, so everytime I take on a project its the first time I’m doing it. With that being said, I am becoming a better contractor and better at estimating project schedules. I’m at the point where I like to have at least eight weeks on smaller, easier projects and four months on larger or more complicated projects.

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

What’s the main differences between your 2D and 3D work?

The difference is mainly aesthetic. Most of my 3D work has been commissioned whereas my 2D work is made as a reaction to having a divided studio practice. As far as concept though, I’m thinking about metal and fire while I’m making my 2D work. Along with this, my 3D work is almost entirely composed of 2D building blocks, my mind operates in 2D and then the 3D result is always surprising.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by architecture found in nature- anything from climbing on rocks and mountains to tessellated micro structures. My inspiration has always been connected to nature and my time spent within it.

Over the years, I began to care more about preservation and our environmental impact. I’m not much of an activist, but I feel like I can make a difference with my own actions and consumer behavior. By simply making artwork I am fueling in to this consumer market- but the catch is that my objects intend to provoke a conversation around these topics.

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?

One part of my creative process that has been successful for me is letting things go. It’s so easy to get hung up on the way something should or has to be done. I’ve found some solace and come up with some sculpture tricks while ‘letting go.’

What is the concept behind the show you are installing?

The concept behind “Degradation Reservation” is this duality between the production and demand of consumerism and the false comfort we get as a society from convenience. As the parallel between the importance of making and spending money and a disregard for the consequences facing our environment.

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

How long have you lived in Detroit?  

I moved to Detroit 15 years ago, after my parents passed away. I was 21 years old. I felt like I needed to live here. I was skating/blading downtown and showing art here at The Bankle. I was the first of any of my friends to move downtown so it put me in a good situation to meet people. I landed at The Iron St. Lofts off of Jefferson. This is where I became a social butterfly.

At that time all of my friends were also tenants in the building. I was surrounded by creatives and people who supported my art. After this was the 1217 years- in a 7-story building in Capitol Park- which was our own gritty creative utopia. Most people remember this place for the parties, but it was so much more. It was the last thread of freedom to do whatever you wanted in Detroit at the time. The building was home for many art studios, practice spaces and even a skate park on the fifth floor in our spot.

Image credit, CJ Benninger @themrcj

Everyone who lived there were all connected to each other on a cosmic level. This is where many of us cut our teeth in what we do today. Capitol Park at the time was like an isolated crime area where all the most treacherous stuff would go down in Downtown. Dan Gilbert put an end to all of it. Totally displacing everyone living in the area and re-vamping the park. Everyone in our building was fine, we all moved on to bigger and better things here in the city. We all knew we had a great run. Since then, I’ve taken much pride in my city to meet and connect with whoever I can by cultivating my metal fab family, and be knowledgeable about Detroit.

Does the city have any influence on your work or style?

Living in this Industrial city has absolutely affected my work. I think it’s apparent in my 2D work. Even more so in the the big rusty steel work. I like the stain that Detroit has left on me, I hope people see it in me, as well as my work. I want to leave my mark here to be remembered. This place has molded me into who I am, and I love it for that.





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