By Erica Louise Photos Yanni
Mornington’s Joe Taranto welds artistry with engineering. The former engineer forges metal into art in his workshop, Steelscape. His creations include signage, fire pits, functional garden ornaments and more intricate designs. All are one-offs.
Art was not at the forefront of Joe’s mind when he completed his training in metal fabrication some 25 years ago. While his apprenticeship and industry experience laid the foundations for his creative endeavours, he steered towards metal art much later.
“I’d been designing and building industrial farm equipment for two decades. That training has set me up to build anything. It gave me the knowledge and confidence to know my work would be structurally sound. I broke away from agriculture machinery five years ago, as I wanted to be more artistic,” he said.
Joe now works full time manipulating metals into aesthetic pieces of art. His material preference is Corten, which is a mixture of steel, copper and nickel.
“Corten corrodes on the outside but remains strong inside. I like that because it develops a patina and slowly rusts. But the rust is an inhibitor for further decay, so it protects the metal and adds character.”
Joe is committed to using Australian products wherever possible. He works with some recycled elements, however most of his metals are sourced from BlueScope Steel Australia, the national manufacturer and supplier of steel.
Even when driven by the same idea, Joe makes each individual piece by hand, so no two pieces are the same.
“I consider myself a boutique manufacturer. Rather than clients choosing a pre-picked pattern A, B or C, I ask people to present me with a photograph or give me an idea of where to start developing a concept and we go from there. Even with some of my simpler designs such as letterboxes, I always try and add an element that will make it different.”
While he falls back on engineering to craft complex designs, the beginnings of all Joe’s creations come to fruition organically. His projects begin with a hand-drawn design using a pen and an iPad. He prides himself on his traditional creative process, which means his projects have more character than factory-made pieces.
From a client’s initial contact through to a draft design takes 1–2 weeks. Once the idea is sharpened, a completed custom piece of metal art will be delivered within a 4–5-week time frame. Naturally, this depends on the size and detail of the order. A sign for a house would require less work than an intricate kinetic sculpture.
Joe enjoys building sculptures that turn with the wind, because there are elements of engineering involved to make this happen. His most ambitious metalwork project was for the Diggers Club, presented at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show.
“I built a 5-metre high beanstalk sculpture with three kinetic hanging pods. The pods were filled with pumpkins. The work was the centrepiece of their stand at the show.”
Until COVID halted public exhibitions and gatherings, Joe’s award-winning work was annually displayed at this prestigious event.
Another kinetic project he was particularly proud of was a prehistoric shell sculpture, symbolic of the ammonite. This piece was displayed in an exhibition and subsequently sold to a private residence in Caulfield.
“The base of the ammonite was a collection of large rocks and the sculpture raised up out of those rocks, turning in the wind. The design uses the Fibonacci curve and is quite beautiful to look at.”
Much like the ammonite, Joe’s designs are largely inspired by the world around him. “I always look to nature because I think that’s where all the answers are,” he said.
In addition to Australian BlueScope Steel, Joe works with used horseshoes. Most horseshoes can’t be reused after a six-week wear and are scrapped. Joe collects these shoes from farriers across the Mornington Peninsula and crafts them into interesting new sculptures.
“There is so much character in a used horse shoe. The variation of shoe types, sizes and the decay that occurs makes them attractive when used in large sculptures.”
Joe is working on a full-size horseshoe, Pegasus, which was going to be displayed at the 2020 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. However, with the event postponed, Joe’s Pegasus will be flying into Devon Meadows to take up residence outside his Steelscape workshop.
To follow more of Joe’s work, or to order your custom piece of metal art head to steelscape.com.au.