By Connor McNeely
Old is in. From industrial interiors to vintage fashion fads, design tends to repeat itself.
Art, too, is experiencing a form of reincarnation. Reclaimed art is a medium that bestows history in both theme and the sum of its parts.
Metro Detroit artist Dozer knows a thing or two about reclaimed art, noting that artists and designers have been reclaiming for centuries.
“Motorcycles were always a passion and a part of my life but, for me, it was more the art.”
“It’s the ability to see something within something else that makes it work,” says Dozer (who prefers to go by his artistic pseudonym) from his Dozer Cycle Studio in Clawson, Mich.
Given his background in industrial arts, finding fresh use for old objects is a staple of Dozer’s artistic aura. “Industrial arts are about function and problem solving through design and engineering,” says his wife and business partner, Cate Strumbos.
“Dozer’s use of found and formerly used objects and materials comes from an appreciation of their form, function and history, and that aesthetic was likely influenced by growing up on a farm and learning to appreciate resources on hand,” says Strumbos.
Before establishing a name for himself in steel making, the artist inherited the name “Dozer” as a nod to his strong ability to clear trees for an excavating company.
Once a full-time builder of custom motorcycles, Dozer has dedicated most of the last decade to functional art, using plenty of found material in the interim. His most recent piece of functional art combines two of Detroit’s most prominent treasures: music and automobiles.
“The Salute to Bertoia” is Dozer’s homage to Detroit’s great 20th century sound sculptor, Harry Bertoia. Bertoia’s famous “Table Tonal” sculpture was an assortment of vertically standing bronze rods that, once given a gentle nudge, would sway and chime against each other, creating a musical sound.
Dozer’s rendition consists of industrial negative cutouts — likely used to stamp out materials for automotive engines — that he sourced from laser shops around town.
Although it was Dozer’s intention to build something capable of emitting sound when he discovered the materials, he was merely trying to solve a functional design predicament involving his home.
“I was building it for a spot in front of our house, where at night, if the light is on, you can see into the window from the street,” says Dozer, noting that his plan was to block the view into his house.
But “Salute to Bertoia” ultimately became a prominent piece at The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s 10th annual gala, held in October. The gala’s theme was metal work, and Dozer’s contribution made plenty of noise. Salute to Bertoia is currently on display at Dozer Cycle Studio.
Strumbos, Dozer’s partner at Dozer Cycle Studio, claims he is an iconic image in the motorcycle world. A cluttered counter in their 7,500-square-foot workspace showcases countless keepsakes from custom build shows, including awards from national competitions, magazine covers featuring his builds and even a t-shirt with his face on it.
Dozer’s decision to switch gears from bike building to functional design was influenced by the market downturn in 2007, which led to a considerable reduction in consumer demand for expensive custom bikes.
“Motorcycles were always a passion and a part of my life but for me it was more the art,” says Dozer. “Cate and I met because of motorcycles but we both lean toward the art side of everything.”
Dozer’s innate love of art and function is visible in many of his bikes. Most notably, his multi-award-winning bike from 2012, “Muse.”
According to Dozer, the initial motivation behind Muse was to design a bike that had no straight pipe in its frame.
“I wasn’t building for the motorcycle, I was building the design,” he says. “All the driveline components of this motorcycle just enhance the frame and to me it doesn’t make the bike because I can take everything out and the frame is so beautiful and organic that I could leave it without ever putting anything in it.”
Most recently, Dozer has taken his industrial problem solving to a new level. Developers of Detroit’s third precinct have recruited his talents to help transform an old jail into the Detroit School for Digital Technology, a post-secondary school for digital media.
By using discarded negative cutout panels, like those used to build “Salute To Bertoia”, Dozer turned 22 jail cells into private study cubicles. Naturally, Dozer used some reclaimed material from the jail, which was built in 1929, to function as desks in the new study cubicles.
“We used the original jail cell plank beds, so there are still all the old jailhouse carvings on them. There’s cool history here,” says Dozer.
And there you have it. History repeating itself. Again and again.