Steampunk is about fusing the old with the new and is probably the best way to describe Jason Woodcock’s art. The South Lake Tahoe resident assembles copper tubing, light bulbs and working wooden gears in order to bring his work to life with hypnotic movement.
“I love functional art,” says Woodcock, whose work includes a lamp with Bluetooth speakers.
Steampunk began to enter mainstream pop culture sometime in 2006 and quickly gained momentum. The subculture now encompasses literature, fashion, jewelry, art, music, video games and movies. Steampunk conventions are held all over the world and, for some, it is a lifestyle. Woodcock is quick to point out that he has never dressed in steampunk fashion.
Influenced by 19th Century industrial machinery, steampunk incorporates the Victorian era with technology. The term itself comes from science fiction novels. Woodcock was turned on to the idea four years ago when his girlfriend bought a ring from a steampunk jewelry maker.
“I loved the use of the tiny gears,” says Woodcock.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Woodcock was a well-established and well-respected nature photographer for 20 years. He moved to South Lake Tahoe from Orange County. He has spent 15 years photographing the lake’s landscape, but admits he was burning out.
The South Lake Tahoe resident assembles copper tubing, light bulbs and working wooden gears in order to bring his work to life with hypnotic movement.
“Within nature photography, there are many guidelines, compositional rules and technical aspects that have to be followed in order to be successful,” says Woodcock. “Steampunk was wide open to creativity.”
Woodcock began making jewelry out of old watches and, eventually, he decided to try his hand at something larger. He steampunked a set of computer speakers by spray-painting them to look metal and covered them in rivets. Friends and family responded with encouraging praise, but when strangers wanted to purchase his work, Woodcock knew he was headed in the right direction.
After discovering steampunked keyboards created by the late artist Richard Nagy, aka Datamancer, Woodcock created his own interpretation. His keyboards were a hit and one in particular went viral. But it was when he came across a gear-driven wooden clock that he delved deeper into his creative side.
“I fell in love with the use of gears and the mechanical aspect,” he says.
Uninterested in building clocks, Woodcock focused on the gears. He would spend three hours hand-cutting one gear with a scroll saw; most pieces contained many working gears, some as many as 14. A new computerized saw has drastically reduced the time he spends cutting.
When asked if he’d ever kept track of the hours put into one piece, Woodcock grins and shakes his head: “No. It’s better I don’t,” he says. “Creating my art takes a lot of time, which is time I’m not spending with my kids,” says this father of two.
His love for his children is evident from the photos covering the walls of his home, but his need to create art can conflict with family time.
“I’ll study watch movement or things that involve gears and the way they fit together,” he says.
Each piece begins with a vision that he will do his best to sketch it.
“I’m horrible at drawing,” Woodcock admits.
The sketch will grow and change several times before he begins to construct the piece. Steampunk offers a multitude of sub-genres and is one of the reasons Woodcock’s work is evolving to include his love of nature.
“My next piece will center around a tree,” he says.
This progression is what prompted the Benko Art Gallery in South Lake Tahoe to display Woodcock’s work. The gallery’s main focus is contemporary fine art with a connection to nature — the perfect home for Woodcock’s creations.
“The artists at the Benko Gallery are incredible. I’m so grateful to be included,” he says.
And to the thief who heisted his art from the Postmarc Hotel lobby, Woodcock says he would have given him or her the piece if they asked for it.
For the future Woodcock hopes to open an artists’ workshop, a place where local or visiting artists of any medium can rent space and have access to state-of-the-art equipment.
Benko Art Gallery is located at 3979 Lake Tahoe Blvd. Unit 2, in South Lake Tahoe. For more information, call (530) 600-3264 or visit benkoartgallery.com.
Story & photos by Lisa Michelle