“My favorite piece is always the one I just finished,” Chris O’Rourke says.
From the looks of his cavernous workshop, the sculptor and metalworker is about to have a few more favorites: A collection of steel spheres is being configured into a “molecular” piece of art. A set of metal door frames is getting a customized finish. A number of other projects await their turn at the torch and grinder.
O’Rourke has built everything from motorcycles to furniture to 20-foot-high stainless-steel sculptures. “If you’re going to be an artist,” he says, “you have to be a master of your craft.” The graceful shapes, invisible welds and mirror-like finishes of his work back up his statement. “My job as an artist is to do the execution as flawlessly as possible,” he says. “The human hand cannot create perfection, so my job is to remove the human fingerprint.”
A native of Dana Point, California, O’Rourke began his career building motorcycles under the tutelage of legendary chopper creator Pat Kennedy. But when he moved to Las Vegas in 2000 he found another format for his talents. “I was kind of working side by side with a granite company. They were doing granite tabletops and said, ‘Hey, can you make us some table bases,’” he recalls. “We took them to a home show, and the bases were getting more attention than the tops. It kind of ticked them off a little, but it made me think, ‘Maybe there’s something to this.’”
His first two projects were a pop-art heart sculpture and modernist wall sconce created from leftover pieces from his motorcycle. From there, a new career in architectural metal took shape, with his works putting a fantastical twist on everyday items—the front door of a home is turned into the portal to a bank vault complete with a spinning lock, and a bed becomes a floating metal island. Other residential design pieces include copper latticework ceilings and an enormous metal chain that works as both sculpture and water feature; his recent public works include handrails at the SLS.
O’Rourke calls architectural work his “bread and butter,” but creating sculpture remains his passion. It also allows him to reach an audience that his motorcycles didn’t. “I understand art is a narrow market, too, but the potential for a broader fan base exists in art than in motorcycles,” he says. “[With] art, car guys and motorcyclists can appreciate what you do, but so can presidents of companies.”
His large-format public sculptures have been on display at Las Vegas City Hall, and he’s had commissions by LA Fitness in Arizona, while his smaller pieces have shown everywhere from Downtown’s First Friday to the Southern Nevada Museum of Fine Art. He has also participated in the Boulder City Arts Festival (where he won a first-place prize in metal sculpture), as well as Michigan’s ArtPrize competition, where his piece entitled “Family”—a mirror-finished grouping of four figures—became the medium for countless selfies reflected in its shiny surface.
Because O’Rourke’s art is abstract, it’s often difficult for observers to interpret it. That indefinable quality is something he enjoys, believing the ambiguity of subject and meaning adds to the art’s impact. “People ask, ‘What is it?’ I feel that this is the universe expressing itself through my hands,” he says. “Only about 15-20 percent of people really appreciate abstract sculpture. Most want to see the same thing as the guy next to them.
“If we’re standing there looking at a piece, I might say ‘I see a D for Detroit Tigers.’ You might say ‘I see a Chinese character.’ But the important part is that we engaged, we started a conversation. Everything divides us—who we vote for, where we live. Art is a better opportunity to engage than arguing over Dodge or Chevy.”
An artist’s path is never smooth, and Chris O’Rourke has had his share of challenges over the years, from addiction and recovery to economic downturns to the always-changing Vegas art scene. But he remains focused on creating art, and bringing the shapes and concepts he imagines into physical reality. “It’s my heart’s choice to do this,” he says. “If I can implement 10 percent of the ideas in my head, I’ll be in really good shape.”
Interested in checking out more of O’Rourke’s work? Visit ChrisOCreations.com.