The Future is Now

by Stephanie Finnegan
photos by Coleman Norris

Courtesy of Handmade Business

For Gabriel Dishaw, the future of art is shaping up to be one of reclaiming, recycling, and repurposing. An award-winning artist, Dishaw sees a discarded cell phone or a forgotten PC computer and envisions a world of unlimited possibilities. For this young go-getter, cast-off objects become a cast of a thousand different people, sci-fi icons, religious characters, and futuristic robots. His mind is abuzz with how to translate disconnected electronics into illuminating sculptures.

Dishaw's ability to look at everyday items and perceive them as something different began when he was a freshman in high school. ''I was in ninth grade and my art teacher gave us the opportunity to choose our next project. He had about 30 different examples and one was [labeled] 'junk art.' I did some research and made it my own,'' Dishaw recounts.

After a week of seclusion in the family garage taking various objects apart, he emerged with a sculpture entitled ''Mary on a Donkey.'' That initial venture caught the eye of jurors in a local art competition and he was awarded first place. ''This was the defining moment in my life that I had something here,'' he asserts. ''It has evolved a lot since then, but I realized that a single piece of discarded material can influence an entire sculpture.''

''Angel of Light'' stands over six feet tall. It was made of tin, wire, metal, bolts, circuit boards, computer parts, typewriter components, adding machine parts, and CD drives.

''Fembot'' represents a female battle droid that has endured massive damage and is being repaired. This piece is crafted from copper, wire, adding machine and typewriter parts, computer motherboards, fuses, and airplane parts. Ripley's Believe It or Not purchased this sculpture from artist Gabriel Dishaw.

E-waste issues are real

Driven to make an impact through his upcycled art, Dishaw can be found scouring local flea markets, thrift stores, and antique shops in search of needed parts. He is always scouring for what he calls ''old technology,'' which includes typewriters and adding machines. ''I find those two objects offer the best materials because they contain so many intricate parts,'' he reveals.

Friends and family members support Dishaw in his creative process and they bring him their outdated, outmoded electronic equipment. ''I have even had instances where people have dropped stuff off at my doorstep, knowing that I will put them to good use, rather than seeing them end up in a landfill,'' Dishaw notes.

The ability to rescue non-biodegradable electronic components and building materials from landfills is an important facet of his mission. He has been labeled an ''upcycle artist and do-gooder'' by his peers and followers. ''We live in a day and age where we are burning through technology. The notion of e-waste is becoming a real issue. Just think about how frequently you change out your cell phone. Multiply it by everyone around you. This stuff starts to add up,'' Dishaw analyzes.

Bottom-line advice to heed

Currently, Dishaw's days are spent as a learning and development manager for an athletic retailer. He loves his job, but admits that his true passion is art and upcycling. Dishaw credits his work with helping him to mature as a professional.

''The skills I have developed and connections through this job have aided me in my journey,'' he states. ''My long-term strategy is to retire from my day job and create art full-time. I have a one, two, and three-year plan that outlines where I want to take my art career and business.''

Many of the Star Wars characters have been made as sophisticated sculptures by Dishaw. His ''Darth Mantis'' visualization is comprised of computer parts, RAM, wire, capacitors, computer chips, adding machine keys--among other upcycled and reclaimed components. ''Darth Mantis'' is 11-inches tall and 9.25 inches wide.

Gabriel Dishaw

For now, Dishaw has an active online presence and his website is a portal for sharing his past and present achievements. His commissioned sculptures, as well as his more personal ones, are all on display. The artist and entrepreneur is a vocal proponent about the necessity of having an online footprint: ''Social media is your friend. For the most part, it is free. Get out there and start connecting with your community. If you are striving to start a handmade business, be curious. Ask questions and network with experts in the area that you want to focus on ...

''For example, if it is social media, then reach out to someone that is an expert in that area. They will be able to provide you with valuable information. Know when to do it yourself and to consult or pay a professional. Remember--your time is valuable. That should be a consideration when making these choices.''

''I absolutely think I'm doing something that is bigger than the finished project. I hope my art encourages dialogue on creative ways of recycling.'' - Gabriel Dishaw

Breaking down

One of the most difficult aspects of creating Dishaw's artwork is the time-consuming nature of what needs to be done with his base materials. ''Taking things apart and then breaking them down to the smallest parts is a necessary part of the process and can be very time-consuming. Once I have an object completely disassembled, I organize similar pieces in bins,'' he shares.

Standing over six-feet tall, ''Rearing Horse'' is created from adding machine parts, typewriter parts, computer components, metal, and wire.

''Digital Dunk'' is part of Dishaw's Shoe Series, where he revisits some of his favorite sneaker silhouettes. This 4.5-inch tall sculpture, which measures 11.5 inches wide, was made from braided copper wire, data cables, copper, and circuit boards.

While taking the hardware apart, Dishaw is struck with inspiration. Seeing reclaimed items reduced to their smallest pieces often sparks connections and realizations that are not apparent when the objects are in their usual full-size, functioning forms. This was especially true of his ''Rearing Horse'' sculpture.

''The inspiration came to me while taking apart an old adding machine. Some of the pieces reminded me of a horse's head. The rest just fell into place,'' he explains. ''Regarding commissioned pieces, the theme is inspired by the client, their history, and the story to be told through my art.''

Typically when Dishaw starts a project, he is receptive to how the pieces call out and beckon to him. He is swayed by how they move, how well the pieces seem to work together, and he lets that interplay guide his hand to the overall endpoint of where an idea will land.

Many of his sculptures key into his personal fascination with the science-fiction genre and in particular, with the Star Wars movie franchise. He also has a very successful ''Shoe Series,'' which he credits to his extensive collection of nearly 400 pairs of sneakers. Dishaw is able to combine his passion for reclaiming and repurposing with his obsession toward stylish footwear and Comic Con fandom.

''I'm constantly looking for new ways to use old materials and showcase them in a new light that is of interest to me,'' Dishaw reveals. ''In that respect, one sculpture can easily balloon into a series.''

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