— TIFTON, Ga. —
An odd sight grabs the attention of an unsuspecting driver as he enjoys the warm, spring afternoon, with his arm out the dark car’s window. He slowly passes a modest home and sees a tall yard sculpture that appears to be ready to attack.
“I call him ‘Alien’,” said John Davis, a 19-year-old, self-taught sculptor who creates yard art from metal that most people would throw away. Welding was alien to him until a teacher provided the missing spark three years ago that ignited Davis’ latent creativity.
That was all he needed, except for a steady supply of scrap metal.
The freedom made a lasting, artistic impression on Davis, who has a quick, broad smile and muscular arms.
“I’ve never had art lessons,” he said.
The talent comes as naturally as sparks from a welding rod touching a piece of metal. He particularly likes to take random parts that look ready for the scrap heap and see how they fit.
“Once I get going, it takes about two to three days to finish a piece,” Davis said.
He creates in the family’s small garage, on a recycled metal table.
A rusted chain hangs from the ceiling to hold his larger pieces during construction, with boxes of metal pieces sitting below, ready to take on a new life assignment. Nothing goes to waste.
A small army of family and friends stay on the lookout for thrown-away metal that John might use.
Even with a ceiling chain to hold works in progress, the small one-car garage isn’t anywhere large enough for his bigger creations.
“Sometimes I have to go outside, take the welder with me and work where I have more room,” said Davis, who often creates works 8 feet tall.
He enjoys teasing viewers with artistic puns.
A dog sculpture uses fire dogs, pieces of metal commonly found in fireplaces to hold wood while it burns.
“Those are the smallest fire dogs I’ve ever seen,” said Davis, pointing to the dog’s back legs with a happy personality that seems to match his own big smile of joy.
Each foot, a little more than an inch long, on a dog with no name and with interesting ears, illustrates his artistic depth. It takes a second look to see that Davis has pulled another visual fast one on the viewer.
“I used bent butter knives,” he said.
Sure enough. “I build pieces around one part,” said Davis.
A giant ball bearing became an eye in one of his works. A clock for the other eye that still ticks, there’s a pick ax for the body, a spring for a tongue that never seems to stop moving and horseshoes for the mouth.
“I like horseshoes,” said Davis. “You can do a lot with them and they are easy to find.”
Prehistoric creatures capture his interest, especially the fierce looking Anglerfish that lives in the ocean depths. “I used two pitchfork ends for the mouth, part of a student desk for its neck and shell casings on its back,” said Davis.
It looks as if it would snap a viewers’ hand if it got too close.
Another piece illustrates what a duck might have looked like in the prehistoric era.
“I attached a cutting blade, much like what you’d see in hedge clippers, to its top lip,” said Davis.
The rest of the work looks ducky, down to its webbed feet. “We don’t know what a prehistoric duck might have looked like. It could have looked like this,” Davis said.
His creative mind works non-stop and Davis has a good idea for his next project. "I want to make a kangaroo,” he said.
He’ll hop right to it with a welder in hand and with creativity to spare.
Joe Courson is a reporter for The Tifton (Ga.) Gazette. Comtact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.