While most 6-year-old kids were learning how to color within the lines of a coloring book, Adam Weiss was helping his dad with construction -- as much as one can at a young age. When it came to art, Weiss’ stick figures tended to look more like a mess of squiggly lines, but he could build a deck at the age of 12 with no problem.
That’s not to say Weiss is devoid of any artistic skills. He’s quite adept at making sculptures, most of which are made with copper; it’s his medium of choice, especially regarding his heat and patina paintings, an art form he has been constantly improving for the past 13 years.
“Copper was 36 cents a pound when I first started in college,” said Weiss, 31, who graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a teaching degree in art education. Copper was cheap back then and the art method captured Weiss’ imagination. “I saw those colors flash when I heated it up with the torch and thought it was really cool.”
The colors he spoke of occur after sheets of mirror-finished copper are exposed to a controlled heat source like a blowtorch. These finished heat paintings burst to life with vibrant oranges, purples, blues, reds and yellows. His patina paintings -- still made with sheets of copper -- are produced by oxidation or other chemical reactions that permanently change the color of the work.
No matter the piece, Weiss takes inspiration from his travels and experiences around nature. He hopes the patrons at ArtSplash this weekend will pick up on those themes when they see his work. It will be his fourth year participating in the Siouxland art festival.
“Me and my wife always travel and look at the different hot spots like waterfalls or springs or different things like that,” he said. “I’ve always been nature-inspired.”
When Weiss starts a new piece, there are instances when he has an idea of what he wants in mind but other times it's up in the air.
“You kind of have a general form that you’re going for,” he said. “Obviously, once the heat is applied it changes the color and you kind of have to adapt to something bigger or smaller or change up backgrounds and foregrounds. There are always different [ideas] you can pull out, like different patterns and different scenes that would be good representations of nature.”
Both the patina and heat painting methods -- though very delicate processes -- are easy to control. It certainly helps that Weiss has been experimenting with the artwork for many years.
“I’ve got 13 years of experience of how much heat and oxygen I have to add,” Weiss said. “It also depends on how cool the copper is originally and how far away you hold the torch as well as other contributing factors.”
So why copper? Why not steel or aluminum or plastic or canvas or any other media? Weiss said he uses copper because of the endless spectrum of colors he can produce.
“It’s a completely self-taught process,” he said. “There are a couple people that do copper artwork but no one quite has the same niche as I do, I think.”
There is a bit of risk involved when working with copper. Handling a shiny new sheet of copper without any gloves will result in very visible fingerprints speckled about the piece as the oils on his fingers resist the chemicals. And if Weiss doesn’t like how a certain design looks after he’s burned the copper with a torch, there’s no crumpling it up and starting over from scratch.
“You don’t get to undo,” he said. “You just end up wasting about $60 worth of copper.”
Weiss also adds three layers of clearcoat onto every piece to stop any oxidation processes, trapping the colors permanently. Hopefully when people see his work, Weiss said, they can experience “the wonders of nature’s beauty.”
“Copper is a native element and you can see those nature colors,” he said. “There are no dyes, no additives, no nothing. It’s pure science behind it. You can find all those colors on copper naturally. It’s a statement of what nature can produce.”