Old junk gets a new lease of life

Heavy metal dude: Peter Lötscher of Recycle Art

With their sharp claws, jagged teeth and tough armour, the immense figures are menacing at first glance. A closer look reveals their origin: the junk yard.

This content was published on August 30, 2010 - 15:46
Susan Vogel-Misicka in Hermetschwil,

Old screws turn into dragon fangs and motorcycle chains become hair. Salvaged from old tools and vehicles, the scrap metal is transformed into magnificent sculptures.

One resembles the Terminator; others are like monsters from the films Alien and Stargate. While most works look fierce, there are cute ones like cats, elves and donkeys. There is even a bust of Buddha made almost completely of washers.

The man behind the enterprise is rather slight and shy, but he quickly warms up when talking about his metal kingdom. While staying in southeast Asia for an extended period, Peter Lötscher met some artists and was impressed with their work.

“I started collaborating with them four years ago, and we developed the sculptures for the Swiss market,” Lötscher told The name of the business is Recycle Art.

Lötscher, who is originally from canton Zug, now spends half the year in Asia, where a crew of 15 artists create the sculptures. Once a month they go to a junk yard and cart away a truckload of metal waste gleaned from old cars and motorbikes. The pieces are cleaned and sorted by type; nothing is thrown away.

Weld done

They start with a sketch or a model and make a scaffold to scale. All pieces are welded together, polished and varnished with special anti-rust lacquer. A master artist oversees the group, while Lötscher is responsible for design and sales.

“It’s a mix of technique and fantasy,” Lötscher said, noting that customers often request specific characters or animals: “The artists have ten years of experience and can make almost anything.”

He says that the Swiss really like animals, and that the robust lion statues are especially popular. Recycle Art’s clients are now as diverse as the sculptures themselves.

“We have little boys who save up SFr200 ($192) in pocket money and managers who buy something big to serve as an eye-catcher at their company premises. And a lot of people put them in their gardens,” Lötscher said.

Vital stats

The finished figures range in size from 20cm to four metres and weigh anywhere from five to 500kg. It takes about two months – or 400 hours – for an individual worker to complete a large sculpture.

The heftiest is a Native American astride a horse. It’s also the most expensive at SFr12,800. At the other end of the spectrum are the long-stemmed roses for SFr29 a piece – a bargain considering that they never wilt.

During the six months that he spends in Switzerland, Lötscher carts his heavy metal wares to fairs, concerts and other events. However, he found that his figures needed a safe home during his periods abroad.

So two years ago, Lötscher teamed up with Eric Pauli, who runs a motorcycle shop and garage in Hermetschwil bei Bremgarten. The shop regularly hosts exhibitions of new artwork.

“People are fascinated by the sculptures. And some recognise the parts right away,” Pauli told The figures fit in well with the motorcycles and related gear on display.

Furry friends

Ultimately, the steel beasts end up helping furry friends. The Recycle Art project gives Lötscher the chance to live out his true passion, which is helping animals in need.

“I first went to Asia because I needed a time out. And I volunteered at an animal shelter on a holiday island for eight months,” Lötscher said. The shelter was founded a decade ago by German tourists who were dismayed at the sad situation of stray animals there.

Donations provide jobs for 15 local workers and a vet; Lötscher is one of the many foreign volunteers. The shelter has room for 300 dogs and 90 cats, which are given food and medical attention. They are also neutered or spayed to reduce the problem of overpopulation.

So when he’s not checking in with the Recycle Art crew, Lötscher is hanging out with the pooches.

“My goal is to stay there and work with the dogs as long as possible. The figure project is sort of a means to an end.”

Upcoming shows

Recycle Art is based at Pauli Motos in Hermetschwil and regularly hosts exhibitions there. Check online for the next dates (see link).

September 3-12
Gehla festival, Chur

September 10-12
Country Night Gstaad

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Facts & figures

Height: 20-400cm
Weight: 5-500kg
Price: SFr29 - SFr12,800
Time needed for a life-sized figure: ca. 400 hours

It is also possible to rent sculptures for special events. Prices start at SFr800.

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