The art in Artifice: Necessity plus creative itch turns into a career

March 2015 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, People
Josh Kinsey

Josh Kinsey

By Melissa Wagoner

One of the most common misconceptions about artist Josh Kinsey’s creations is their origin. His sculptures, which can be classified as steampunk, a genre commonly featuring steam powered machinery, are a wonder of intricacy and delicate moving parts.

“People think they’re found objects,” Kinsey said.

In fact Kinsey’s lamps, which recently showcased at Lunaria Gallery in Silverton, are made entirely of new materials many of which the artist creates himself. Even the metalwork is often poured in his basement workshop.

“The Mystarium Lamp has over 370 parts and 95 percent are handmade,” said Kinsey, who began his art career in childhood working with kit models.

“I would make my own design from hundreds of models,” Kinsey remembered. But his dream was to work in special effects.

“What I wanted to do when I grew up was work for ILM. Industrial Light and Magic is George Lucas’s special effect shop, created in the 1970s originally to make the Star Wars movies,” Kinsey said.

JW Kinsey’s Artifice

Kinsey got his chance to visit the company when, as a youth, he won a statewide model building contest for the second time. “I got to see all the authentic Star Wars costumes,” Kinsey said.

While Kinsey was viewing what he thought was his future he was given some sage advice. “I was told, ‘model building is dead, go computers,’” Kinsey remembered. And that’s just what he did.

Over the next several years Kinsey attended college in San Jose, earning a degree in computer graphics, then on to a high paying job in Silicon Valley. Everything was going as planned until Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 911 Silicon Valley collapsed. In 2002 I was doing anything I could to survive. Even though I was published and had one of my pieces in a prestigious design book, I just disappeared,” Kinsey said, adding he remembers lines of people in designer suits waiting for entry level jobs. Those jobs went to people who lacked experience but would work for less pay. Kinsey, who was married with two young children, couldn’t take the cut in income.

“When you’re good it’s hard to find work,” Kinsey said.

A turning point came for Kinsey at church one Sunday when a woman approached him asking if he knew someone who could remodel her kitchen. Kinsey took the job.

“I had no tools. I didn’t have any money. I found a junked out table saw and refurbished it. But my first job is what most people strive for. At the end of that year I started doing cabinets,” Kinsey said.

A set of lamps created by JW Kinsey's Artifice.

A set of lamps created by JW Kinsey’s Artifice.

Kinsey opened a cabinet shop, never dreaming that it would become a career. By the time jobs began opening up in computer graphics he was entrenched.

“I couldn’t walk away. There was now a glut and all these young computer graphic guys were willing to work cheap,” he said.

Things went well for Kinsey’s cabinet business for the next 10 years until the recession hit and he was forced to close his shop. After that he and his wife, Katie, made the decision to move their family to Oregon.

“I couldn’t even sell my equipment. I landed a job in Portland doing patterns for metal castings,” Kinsey said.

Kinsey worked there for about a year, then in Salem as a cabinet installer. All the while he was working on his hobby – making light fixtures.

“The lamps were a diversion from the cabinet job. All this stuff started out as trying to impress my wife,” Kinsey explained. After being laid off once again, Kinsey decided to try to make a go of selling his light fixtures and opened J.W. Kinsey’s Artifice.

“I never wanted to be self-employed again. When you’re self-employed you have to do everything,” Kinsey said. “But the positive side is I get to create.”

Kinsey, who now works from home in his basement workshop, has an impressive resume. He was contracted to create props for the web series, The Record Keeper. He has designed light fixtures for breweries, photo shoots and is currently working on a custom steampunk car.

“I’ve had a chance to make some really unique stuff and I’ve got sketchbooks of a lifetime of stuff I hope to make,” he said.

Kinsey sells his pieces online and can be commissioned to make just about anything. His workshop, though small, is a wonder of ingenuity with many tools handcrafted or refurbished to fit his needs.

“I get a machine and I make a project to figure it all out. It’s a creative itch,” Kinsey explained. “You just make sure you go the extra mile.”

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