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The Artistry Of Metal

Local artist turns bronze and copper into unique works of art.

Mike Sluder’s unique art is produced with inspiration as well as perspiration. Tiny scars on his arms testify that the beautiful pieces he creates from bronze and copper require the welders, grinders, sandblasters, and blow torches he uses inside his hot and grimy Fayetteville workshop. Being an artist may be a harder route than more traditional jobs, but Mike has no regrets. “I love what I’m doing,” he said.

Mike credits his father, who worked as a photographer for The Charlotte Observer, with encouraging him to pursue his dream and teaching him to recognize the beauty in everything from rocks to manhole covers. While many parents encourage their children to pursue more traditional occupations, Mike said about his dad, “He never pushed me to do anything but what I wanted to do, which was art. He showed me how you can use your creativity to make a living.”

Drawn to three-dimensional objects, Mike, who earned his art degree from East Carolina University, enjoyed drawing shoes when he was young, but he knew he wanted to do sculpture. “I like to interact with objects versus flat surfaces.”

With an aversion to numbers and precise measurements, metal became his preferred medium. “I like metal because it’s forgiving in a way. It doesn’t require the same precision as wood, which requires specific cuts.”

Inspired by nature, Mike particularly enjoys the juxtaposition of the strength of bronze against organic, flowing forms. For many of his sculptural pieces, he envisions things that hold life, such as a flower vase, or a bowl that holds food and brings people together. Although each piece is unique, they all relate to his recognizable style. 

Instead of drawing his pieces before he begins, Mike lets the materials guide him, beginning with a wax sculpture. After the wax is coated in a ceramic shell, it is cast and sandblasted. Labor intensive, his bronze pieces usually take at least six weeks to complete. Before his artwork is lacquered and waxed, Mike adds patina—his favorite step in the process and something he learned while working in a Florida foundry. As an accomplished patineur, he ‘paints’ using fire and chemicals to speed up the natural oxidation process. “Adding patina is when it (the piece) really comes to life,” he said.  

Not only does Mike add patina to his pieces, but he has also added patina to notable works by other artists across the country, including the bronze Martin Luther King, Jr. statue near Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He was also chosen to sculpt pieces to restore the historic fountain in Atlanta’s Grant Park. Mike’s art has appeared in national and international exhibitions and publications as well as in the Museum of Design Atlanta. Although he had a gallery in Atlanta for a time, he moved about six years ago to Peachtree City where he lives with his wife, Sarah, and sons, Bennett and Grady.  

Now, Mike often exhibits his work at art shows and festivals. Most of his buyers are individual collectors, although his customers have included The Ritz-Carlton and Hilton Hotel companies, restaurants, and corporate offices. Saying that mass-produced art usually winds up donated to thrift stores, Mike believes original art is a good investment and has seen his pieces, which start at about $350, increase in value.  

Mike dreams of doing something on a monumental scale—public, outdoor work.  And he would like to see it in Fayette County where he said there is a void of culture and art. “People don’t realize the positive economic impact that art can have,” he said.  “There are a lot of people interested in the arts [in Fayette County], but they don’t really have a place to see it or do it. It would be cool to feel like I didn’t have to leave my community to sell or display my work.”

For more information visit www.sluderart.com.

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