TRENDER: Sculptor Boris Bally

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


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"RI has allowed me to create the ideal studio building"--sculptor Boris Bally. Photos: Steven King

Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today’s trender is Boris Bally, an industrial designer meets sculptor–or “Humanufacturer,” as he prefers–working in Providence. Boris’s eccentric practice involves transforming silverware, street signs, and rusted metal into useful and reflective pieces. He creates everything from whimsical jewelry, to chairs, to mailboxes, and even municipal trash cans. His work has been displayed in numerous public collections including London’s V&A Museum, the Museum of Art and Design, Carnegie Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, as well as many residential homes.

1. When did you start to create art from recycled materials?

I've been doing it since I was a kid. My (Swiss) parents never threw anything out and so I learned early on that everything has further potential.

My efforts did not begin from sincerity, rather via upbringing/culture as mentioned above. I just wanted to make 'cool stuff.' I had been to Switzerland, numerous trips all my life and I apprenticed as a goldsmith in Basel 1979-80. As a way of conscious life they recycle and always have, always will–they are programmed not to waste. I saw this and learned.

I still run my life (and as a family we all do) to reduce waste, recycle, upcycle, and make do. My studio is a recycled School-turned-American Legion Building (1889) which I bought in '99 the cost of an automobile. They were going to tear down this monument: I saved and restored it. The staircase railing is made from shovels my UPS driver gave me! The window grates are made of drills the electricians discarded when they ran the power in this place.

2. Have you ever had any difficulty obtaining materials?

Yes, always—there are politics involved. Also, there’s the expense and intrinsic value of the aluminum. I must outbid all the other scrap specialists to have the ability to acquire the signs. Recently, I won a State bid for an enormous sign pile (over 10 tons), which has been building for years. Getting it to the studio and sorting it is really challenging, exhausting work!

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3. You make a lot of furniture and home accessories. How is your own home decorated? Does it have this same edgy, recycled vibe?

We live in a converted Stallion Barn in the 'burbs by the bay. It is a sister building of the American Legion building—built in the same decade! We eat dinner sitting in my chairs, surrounded by my mom's tapestries, using flatware designed by me (we eat with the knock-offs!), and drinking from cups I made of glass and ceramic in art school. Shepard Fairey's prints grace our walls and the living room sports an enormous swing, which the kids love. My plates are all over the walls and bedrooms. There is more art per square inch than imaginable.

4. Aside from furniture, you also “Humanufacture” (as you call it) wearable art pieces, like rings, broaches, and necklaces. Have you ever seen anyone wearing your pieces in public?

Sure. I get occasional facebook wall post from folks that recognize the pieces on people in museums, etc. Several 'stars' have my works including Shepard Fairey, Robert Downey, Jr., Michael Stipe (REM) and Jerry Seifeld, Richard Tait (inventor of Cranium games).

5. You’ve also done a number of installations in private residences, public spaces (like your Gun Totem outside the RI State Superior Courthouse), and even created quirky municipal trash cans in Rhode Island. Is there any place in Rhode Island you would particularly like to enliven with your works?

I'd love to place an installation at the Miriam Hospital lobby where my wife works as a Physician (or at Hasbro or Rhode Island Hospital). My work seems to fit nicely into that setting as it appeals to all sectors of humanity, including kids.

6. What's the best thing about working in Rhode Island? The most challenging thing?

The best things about working in RI are its diverse population and various communities and neighborhoods, and its proximity to cultural and education institutions (in-state museums, universities, and regional academic hospitals). Also, RI embraces the arts. It has allowed me ample opportunities to grow as an artist and to create the ideal studio building.

Challenges of working here include the high operational expenses and the inability to sell work in this state (in my experience, it is never easy to be supported where you live, while you are living there). Just like Pittsburgh, PA–my home town–Providence is also a surprisingly insular community with the same group of people comprising the leadership.


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