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Vacaville artist turns trash to art

By From page A1 | February 19, 2012

Vacaville artist Gilbert Rangel poses for a picture with one of his sculptures made from metal scraps. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Vacaville artist Gilbert Rangel poses for a picture with one of his sculptures made from metal scraps. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

VACAVILLE — Gilbert Rangel considers his art to be a bit like a reincarnation that starts as discarded bits of metal and plastic trash and, by his hands, becomes an abstract metal warrior, a wooden animal head or a plastic robotic figure.

“It’s all found stuff, anything I find,” said the Vacaville man, who was born in Baja, Mexico, and started making small pieces of art as a child to kill time while his mother visited with friends and expected her son to “be seen and not heard.”

“I would fiddle with whatever is around,” Rangel said.

That would be anything he would pick up — bottle caps, wire, bits of metal, nails, paper clips. His tools were what other people see as trash, but Rangel sees as part of an artistic creation.

After coming to America, his family settled in Vacaville, where he now lives with his wife and three daughters. A postal carrier in Oakland, he continues to make his art, which ranges from plastic and metal figurines to wood staffs and mobiles created from metal and plastic.

All of the materials are still whatever Rangel finds.

“I go to the art store, but I hardly buy anything,” he said.

A wooden sculpture pig came from discarded redwood deck ends, while a wire-and-plastic mobile started life as a computer chair “that the kids trashed.” A dozen hand-sized abstract mannequins in shadow boxes are made from flattened metal bits he found on roadways and forced together by hand.

“I see things in everything,” said Rangel, pointing to a tackle box of metal bits and a shoebox of plastic odds-and-ends in one corner of his dining room.

A piece of scrap metal he picks up from a street and envisions for a figurine might remain in that box for a couple of years before he comes across other pieces that he suddenly realizes feel right to complete the artwork.

“I would sometimes wait two or three years for something to be done, and sometimes it is never done,” Rangel said.

The act of creation doesn’t take long for Rangel. It’s the amount of time he puts into thinking about his creations that does.

Rangel describes his work as a stress reliever and a way to fill time whenever he has nothing else to do. He said when he is working on one of his creations, his world narrows down to whatever he is working on with his hands.

His inspirations include Catholicism and 20th-century mobile sculptor Alexander Calder, who also created large public metal art — the kind Rangel said he would like to take on some day.

A wire-and-wood crucifixion made from pieces of chair legs and a single long piece of wire had Rangel thinking about the piece for months, “but I did the wire Christ in a day.”

It is one of the few pieces that Rangel displays in his house. The rest are stored away, but he said his oldest daughter would like to see her father display his art so others can enjoy it.

“I would like to have my art out there to be seen just to see what people think of it,” said Rangel, who describes himself as a shy person.

Rangel has only sold a few of his creations. He said he prefers giving them away to friends who like what he has done.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected]

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
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