“Talbotics,” a collection of artist Tal Avitzur’s scrap metal robots conceived from found objects, are a sight to behold. Shiny faces and limbs, gleaned from salvage yards, yard sales and other sources, are pieced together intricately by Avitzur because, well, he simply likes to do so.
Utilizing only his metallic finds, Avitzur has become known as a robot-minded Dr. Frankenstein, searching for perfect chunks of metal to form his next creation.
In this interview, Avitzur sits down with his long-time artistic inspiration (and California neighbor), Irma Cavat. Avitzur credits Cavat with inspiring him to start down an artistic path, and all these years later, Cavat wanted to pose some questions about the inspiration behind all these little robotic friends.
As Avitzur recalls, “In 1983, I moved from Allentown, PA, to Santa Barbara, CA, and lived in Irma Cavat’s house while attending University of California at Santa Barbara to get a Master’s in Mathematics. There was a constant stream of artists coming and going in her large communal artists’ compound.”
The two convened in Santa Barbara in October 2012 to talk all things Talbotics.
Irma Cavat: What got you started making robots?
Tal Avitzur: I was visiting scrap metal yards in search of materials for home improvement projects. Little did I know I would find all kinds of treasures hiding in huge piles of aluminum, brass and copper. They were on their way to the smelter and would be gone forever, unless I brought them home with me. That’s how it began.
IC: Where else do you get your materials?
TA: Auto and marine salvage yards, garage sales, university and military surplus... and now that the word is out about what I do, I often find parts dropped off for me at my front gate.
IC: What challenges do you encounter in making your art?
TA: Sometimes I’ll find a great part, say a robot arm or leg, but only one. Finding a mate for the arm or leg can be difficult. I thought of making some with missing limbs and dangling wires, but that seems a bit sad.
IC: Your robots seem happy. Did you set out to make cheerful robots?
TA: Actually that was not my intention, but the words “cheerful,” “happy” and “cute” have been used a lot to describe them. Guess I’m just a happy guy.
IC: I’ve known you for 30 years, and yes, I’d say that you are happy. What is the process you go through in making a robot sculpture?
TA: A piece always starts with a found object that looks like it would make a good robot head or some other body part. Then it’s like a puzzle, playing around and matching other body parts that seem to be in the right proportions and fit with the initial piece.
IC: How long does it take you to make a piece?
TA: It varies. Depends on whether or not I have all the parts on hand. A few days if I have the pieces; months if I have to scavenge for missing parts.
IC: Are you trying to make a statement with your work?
TA: It’s pretty simple. No hidden meanings, no statements. Just robots meant to make you smile.
IC: Any plans for the future?
TA: Bigger robots. Thanks for the interview, Irma. It’s really because of you that I am doing something creative, as you were my first art teacher and the person who opened up the art world to me. So, thank you!
For more information on Tal Avitzur’s Talbotics,” see talbotics.com.
About Irma Cavat
A native of Brooklyn, Cavat became a professional artist in her early 20s. She studied with Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Archipenko and modeled for Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. She also studied at the New School for Social Research in New York. Cavat designed the windows of FAO Schwartz toy store on 5th Avenue in New York, illustrated science-fiction books and designed her own jewelry. As a young artist in the early 1950s, she worked with Willem de Kooning and became part of the Abstract Expressionist group, which included Jackson Pollack and Larry Rivers.
Cavat’s awards include residencies at Yaddo in New York, the McDowell Colony in Maine, the Djerassi Foundation in Northern California and a Fulbright Grant to Rome. Cavat resided in Rome from 1955 to 1964, where her daughters were born. She then moved to Santa Barbara and became a Professor of Art at UCSB from 1965 to 2000.
From the mid-1980s until the time of his death in 2002, sculptor George Rickey used Cavat’s California home as a winter studio. In 1995, in collaboration with landscape architect Isabelle Greene and Walter Kohn, a Nobel laureate in theoretical physics, Cavat helped create the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Sadako Peace Garden on the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima tragedy.
Cavat has lived for extended periods of time in Paris; Provence, France; Athens, Greece; and London. An avid traveler, she has also journeyed to the open markets of Morocco, Tiananmen Square in China, the Taj Mahal in India, and throughout parts of Turkey, Japan, Hungary, the Baltic States and Russia. Each country she visited offered bountiful inspiration for her paintings. Cavat continues to reside in Santa Barbara.