Challenging Perceptions

Boris Bally's World of Scrap Metal

My current body of metal work explores the hybridization of genres, techniques and materials.  My goal is to blur perceived boundaries between craft, art, and design.  The range of completed objects varies--responding to studies of form and surface, technical challenges, and occasional political commentary.

My adventure in metal began in 1974 as a spark. I was inspired by an enthusiastic jewelry teacher, Steve Korpa, who opened my new world by challenging my perception that metal was an unworkable material. I was, of course, influenced by my father, an apprenticed cabinet-maker/inventor/industrial designer, and by my mother, who trained as a fashion-designer and turned fiber artist). Growing-up was stimulating as there was always an interesting project to be critiqued or analyzed.

It’s easy to come up with one design but the real challenge is creating something you can produce in large quantities, and to have enough of a specific type of material for only one piece isn’t enough. In order to make hundreds of pieces you need to possess large amounts of the same found materials. With my traffic sign designs, I’m making five
calls a week to find enough recycle resource to make my inventory. In total, I use about 30,000 pounds of discarded signs a year.

And I treat my found materials like the Native Americans treat their bison—I use every last bit of the beast. When I get a load of reclaimed signs, I triage them into a succession of things. From signs, I reduce the scraps in succession; from the scraps of chairbacks, I make chairseats. From these, I get platters. On and on it reduces, from trays, to light switch plates and coasters, to jewelry and keychains. By the time I’m done reducing all the metal scraps, all that remain is a pile of shavings to bring to the scrapyard. I try to keep my place in the foodchain, as a consumer, and a contributor

I work with various themes that are continually coming up and mixing: both natural and man-made destruction, creative constraints are offered by exploring novel or recycled materials, re-appropriating and interpreting forms directly from our surroundings.  Hopefully, the resulting work will provoke thought and reflect back some of our environment's ripples.

These pieces are all handmade are 'HUMANUFACTURED' in my Rhode Island, Providence studio drawing on my Swiss goldsmith training and thirty-some years of experience as a 'materialsmith.'  As a result, it’s much more of a challenge and benefit for the world for me to use found elements rather than using a material gained at the expense of an exploited population somewhere in the world. I’d much rather use a seemingly dirty found material and transform it into an object of beauty and function than use a depleted resource.

Boris Bally is the recipient of the 2006 Individual Achievement Award for the Visual Arts presented by the Arts & Business Council of Rhode Island. Bally’s work has received two Rhode Island Council on the Arts Fellowships in Design and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in Craft.   His work is featured in numerous international exhibitions and publications. Public collections include London’s V&A Museum, Museum of Art & Design, Carnegie Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Renwick Gallery and Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. To view more of Bally’s work, please visit



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