The Soul of the Machine

Nick Gentile at home with Lydia, his 1960 Dodge Dart.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“I have a lot of irons in the fire.” When Nick Gentile says this, he means it figuratively and literally.

Gentile — who majored in psychology at Randolph College in Virginia — works with people living with neurocognitive impairments, drawing on the minor he received in studio art to assist nonverbal patients in expressing themselves.

His quest for self expression, meanwhile, led him to build and assemble a synthesizer to make industrial electronic music. Because he wanted to fix up an old car, he learned some welding skills to accomplish that. “I didn’t pick up a welder until a few years ago,” he confesses. “I am self taught, but you’d be surprised what you can learn online. You can muddle through a lot of trial and error.”

Specimen Expectant
Photo by Rachel Pressley

It was in that process that he decided to apply welding to his interest in Brutalist design and discarded, nonfunctioning machines. The resulting work led to representation by Re.Imagine Gallery — which is only fitting.  “Repurposing is kind of my MO,” says Gentile.

Western North Carolina is rife with forest foragers seeking ramps, nettles, berries, and mushrooms. Gentile’s hunting ground, however, is a scrap-metal yard close to Asheville. “I take a bag with me and look for things that interest me. You pay a few cents per pound,” he explains. “I also find old machines on local classified ads, but I prefer not to name them because I want my work to appear alien and foreign. I try to obscure the original purpose of the pieces I use.”

Rectilinear IV
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Gentile says that the source material works with him before he works with it. In the one-car garage/shop attached to his home, he disassembles non-functioning machines and puts the pieces in a box with scrap bits he has collected. He constructs the detritus in unique ways, holds it together with clamps, and then welds it. 

Or not. 

Photo by Rachel Pressley

“Sometimes I take it all apart and put the pieces back in the bin. Not everything goes to the next step. The process is intentional, but the outcome can be unpredictable.”

His early pieces are simple shapes — steel rectangles, for instance — welded together to make sculptures to hang on a wall. He got his first lot of horseshoe nails from his father, whose hobby was blacksmithing. “Mechanical-mindedness kind of runs in the family,” he says with a laugh. More recently, he’s started to explore the use of sheet copper to use as a background, creating and painting color through corrosion.

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Gentile says his freestanding table sculptures — some of which are evocative of heavy-metal Pixar characters on the verge of movement — are the most fun to create. 

Umbral Strider
Photo by Rachel Pressley

“I love the abstraction between the biological and mechanical to create something new yet unfamiliar.  In using century-old parts that don’t have modern use or value, that didn’t age gracefully, I’m kind of giving them new life.”

The edgy approach
The artist mines his medium mostly at the scrapyard. Behind him is a salvaged sign warning of the danger of a nearby mountain road.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Nick Gentile, Fletcher, shows his work at Re.Imagine Gallery & Studios, 15 Spivey Lake Drive, Fairview, Also see

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