By Eric Lundin
The forces of nature can be vast and terrify- ing, taking the form of tornadoes, volca- noes, and hurricanes. However, these aren’t
the norm. For the most part, nature’s actions are
gentle and soothing—a stream tumbling down
a short waterfall, a refreshingly cool breeze on a
warm day, the undulating waves at a waterfront.
Capturing the tranquil motions and peaceful flow
that many natural processes exhibit is the aim of
John Searles, a man of many careers who became
a full-time artist.
Searles had anything but a traditional upbringing. Encouraged to paint at a mere 4 years old, he
started piano lessons at the same age, violin at 9,
and guitar at 14. His family moved to Britain when
he was 10 years old and he found himself immersed
in the storied land of King Arthur and the Knights
of the Round Table. Trips to art galleries in London
and Paris ensued, imparting a lifelong devotion to
Not that Searles’ background doesn’t include
experience in other fields. Drafted into the United
States Air Force in 1972, Searles worked as a Chinese linguist during his four-year stint and later he
completed a degree in chemistry. He worked as a
paint chemist for several years before taking a job
selling lab equipment, and eventually rolled all of
those experiences into a new vocation, becoming a
full-time artist in 1993.
Working With Nature’s Wonders
Although the many processes needed to mine ores
and turn them into useful metals are anything but
natural, metals are inherently products of nature.
What better medium to use to express natural forces
such as wind and waves? To that end, Searles uses
his metalworking expertise to create beautiful, flowing ribbons. Although they’re heavy, rigid, and immobile, they have the look of a paper streamer, light
and delicate, buffeted by a breeze (see Figure 1).
Related to ribbons are Möbius sculptures. Like the
ribbon sculptures he creates, they appear almost
weightless, flowing freely on a breeze, but they have
a little something extra, a mathematical curiosity:
They have just one side. A Möbius strip is made by
imparting a half-twist on a strip of material such as
paper or metal and joining the ends. Although it appears to have two sides, the half-twist means that
this ribbon has one continuous side (see Figure 2).
Another of Searles’ specialties is weaving.
“I started making weavings in paper, from an
idea I saw in a book, and later I tried the process
in metal,” Searles said. He has found that copper
is ideal for this concept. After cutting and weaving
copper strips to form a 2-D wall sculpture, he adds
something extra (or two somethings extra). First is
heat, which he uses to impart color. While the colors
that develop are somewhat predictable, it’s not a
“I was inspired by raku,” he said, referring to a traditional Japanese pottery-making process in which
pottery items are fired at a relatively low temperature and then moved while still hot to a closed container with combustible materials, such as paper or
sawdust. The ensuing reaction creates colors and
patterns in the pottery’s surface.
In many cases, he adds a third dimension to the
formerly 2-D sculpture by adding a series of bends
to create a wavy appearance (see Figure 3).
“Many artists make things that are ugly and
shocking,” he said. “I prefer beauty, balance, and
Contributing editor Eric Lundin can be reached at
John Searles, 269-469-1509, www.searlesart.com
Read more from Eric Lundin at www.thefabricator.com/author/eric-lundin
Artist captures action, motion, flow of nature
Chemistry, mathematics background provides
a little something extra in many of John Searles’ sculptures
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Searles often combines many elements into a single
project. This wall sculpture combines the intricacy of
weaving, the undulating motion implied by the bends,
and the unpredictable beauty that heat draws out of
Although sculptor John Searles works primarily in
metals, which are heavy and rigid, his work often creates a sense of weightlessness.
Named for German mathematician August Ferdinand
Möbius, who discovered this ribbon’s properties in
1858, the Möbius strip has just one side. To add to the visual interest, Searles often makes double Möbius strips.
Some of Searles’ works are more symmetrical and
balanced than others, yet still appear light and airy.