The Gahr family shares a common passion: artwork made of metal.
When Herbert Gahr took his master welder’s examination in 1975, the seams he created were as they ought to be: durable, tight and as unobtrusive as possible. The situation is different today. In his work in metal, this artist — now 59 and hailing from Bischofshofen in Austria — experiments with almost every technique available to fashion seams embodying “the sum of every imaginable welding mistake,” lending a certain stylistic element to his unique metal sculptures.
It was on his thirtieth birthday that Gahr quit his job as production manager for a metal engineering company and set out on his own — as an artist. A daring departure. Twenty-nine years passed between a candelabrum made for the woman who had been his boss and his largest commission to date — a weighty sculpture for a traffic circle in Krumpendorf. Even today, departures and fissures are still a determining element in the work of this sculptor, renowned as a pioneer in welding art. Gahr explains: “A cleft boulder, a plant, a broken tree trunk can inspire images in the mind’s eye, images that I interpret in art. Nature is my greatest source of inspiration. It offers all the shapes and colors and countless compositions. The art that derives from these natural patterns is always lively.”
The characterizing aspect in his work, the welding seam, joins discontinuities in the metal, closes or bridges gaps and at the same time emphasizes them in a striking manner. “We change the welding parameters — the power level, temperature and welding speed. We lay one seam on top of another, experiment with a variety of gases and in so doing use virtually every process — right through to cold welding. This is how we achieve forms and deformations that flow naturally, almost organically, in the brightly shimmering, tarnished colors resulting from oxidation — paintings made of liquid steel.”
The artist’s gene
When Herbert Gahr uses the term “we” he is referring to himself and his two sons, Robert and Stefan. From very early on, the entire family became infected by his enthusiasm for the welding arts. At the tender age of six, Robert, the younger of the brothers, used a cutting torch to dissect his child’s bicycle, reassembling it as a wall-mounted sculpture. That was when he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an artist in metal. Stefan, his brother, creates elegant, filigreed sculptures with pensive names like “The Dream Dancer”, “2 Souls” and “Longing.” And just like his father, he also joins words to compose powerful, emotionally charged essays and poems.
Side by side
These three work together to create fantastic sculptures, furniture and lamps in their shop. They also create sculptures that weigh tons. They are backed by wife and mother Barbara, who used to take the torch in hand too in the artist’s studio. Today she’s happy not to have anything to do with metal. What will signal the moment for the next departure? Sculpture in any medium is heavy-duty work, after all, and three grandchildren also demand a great deal of attention. “I’m working on that,” laughs Herbert Gahr.
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This article was first published in spring 2011.