Steam-Powered Tinker, Chris Spollen

Robot 42 and his creator Chris Spollen. Photo © Chris Spollen
Robot 42 and his creator Chris Spollen. Photo © Chris Spollen

Chris Spollen is younger than me, but we both got our first illustration jobs for Crawdaddy. Crawdaddy was a NYC rock ‘n roll mag founded before Rolling Stone was born. Chris studied printmaking at Parson’s School of Design. His earliest published illustrations were etchings.

Etching © 1975 Chris Spollen
Etching © 1975 Chris Spollen

With help from his mechanically-inclined brother Tom he built an etching press from the recycled wringers of an old washing machine. He’d etch the plates in acid, ink them, run them through the wringers, then stretch his wet prints on plywood. He would hand deliver prints to Crawdaddy’s office on 13th St. and 5th Ave.

Runaway Train © 2015 Chris Spollen.
Runaway Train © 2015 Chris Spollen.

Chris’s fantasy sculpture work is currently on exhibit in Scranton, PA at AFA Gallery until March 27. I met him there. He and I and Veronica Lawlor are exhibiting together. Chris calls his Staten Island home studio ‘The Steam Powered Art Factory.’ So naturally, he was thrilled to visit Scranton’s Steamtown National Historic Site, just 2 blocks from the AFA Gallery. The opening, by the way, was a jam-packed event. Clearly, Scranton has a hopping art scene, and AFA is a big part of it.

Train by Chris Spollen photo courtesy AFA Gallery, Scranton.
Train by Chris Spollen photo courtesy AFA Gallery, Scranton.
AMAZING GOOP.
AMAZING GOOP.

Spollen shared one of the trade secrets of his 3-D work. Amazing Goop. It can bond seemingly incompatible materials, wood, cloth, metal, ceramic. I asked him, “Are you a hoarder?”  He shook his head no. “I am not a hoarder,  I’m a tinker.” I asked if he used any of his new sculptures for editorial illustration. “No,” he said with some pride, “They are absolutely useless!”

Chris Spollen and one of his rockets at AFA Gallery. photo: KMc
Chris Spollen and one of his rockets at AFA Gallery. photo: KMc

For a time, his Staten Island neighbors were suspicious of the robotic creatures in his yard. In 2014, local writer Nicholas Rizzi visited The Steam Powered Art Factory and shared some great photos, here.  So Chris’s neighbors are more understanding. Nowadays, he finds strange offerings left on his steps: bakelite stove knobs, brass gears and assorted unidentified appliance parts.

Robot in Chris Spollin's yard during last week's snow. photo © Chris Spollen
Robot in Chris Spollin’s yard during last week’s snow. photo © Chris Spollen

Chris Spollen has had an illustrious illustration career. His work has appeared everywhere from Penthouse to Scholastic. He has illustrated stories of H.G Wells for The Franklin Library. He had a one-man show at The Society of Illustrators in 2011. He still teaches illustration at FIT and at the Hartford Art School MFA program. Our mutual friend, Ted Michalowski calls Chris Spollen “the most eccentric illustrator I has ever met,” and illustrators tend to be eccentric.

Vintage Illustration for Scholastic Press. © Chris Spollen
Vintage Illustration for Scholastic Press. © Chris Spollen

Chris revealed he is now a card-carrying member of AARP, but the man shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he is speeding up. Another of his passions is HPV’s or Human Powered Vehicles. If you can get to Scranton this month visit AFA Gallery to see his work in person. If you can’t get to Scranton, do check out his site. Find his Steam Powered Art Factory on Facebook. He has posted plenty of pics, including sketch-to-finish process shots of his many amazing contraptions.

Chris in the "VEE BEE," his HPV, or Human Powered Vehicle
Chris in the “VEE BEE,” his HPV, or Human Powered Vehicle

 

2 thoughts on “Steam-Powered Tinker, Chris Spollen

    1. Thanks, Thomas, He is an interesting artist. Surprised we never met before. I studied with James Spanfeller at Parsons through cont ed classes, while Chris Spollen was in the real classes, circa 1973.

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