Bobby Zokaites (IG: @bobbyzokaites)

September 18, 2021

Welcome to this week's #weldershowcase - we had the opportunity to sit down with Bobby from @bobbyzokaites and talk a little shop.
 
If you would like to be featured in our weekly showcase (100% FREE) please send us an email to leo.benchmarkabrasives@gmail.com to get you scheduled in an upcoming week. These showcases are intended to highlight your skill, your business, and your tips and tricks.  Most of all it's to have a little fun!
Enjoy and Grind On!

 

 
Name:  Bobby Zokaites

Business Name: Zokaites Sculpture L.L.C.

Location: Arizona, U.S.A.

Socials: IG: @bobbyzokaites  FB: @ZokaitesSculpture  Twitter: @bobbyzokaites  LinkedIn: bobby-zokaites

Specialties: Large Scale Sculpture
Tell us about yourself - what inspired you to get into your trade? And how long?
My name is Bobby Zokaites and I am a sculptor. I grew up in a small town in Southwest Virginia, in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My parents met at Virginia Tech, through the caving club there. My dad became an electrical engineer, my mom an environmental activist and educator. Growing up outdoors and underground, I learned many of the skills and thought experiments that I still use today at a very young age. A favorite anecdote is about the carbide lamps that were our primary sources of light underground; these are the old miner’s lamps which use a mineral combined with water to produce an acetylene flame. Because we relied on these lamps, we regularly practiced cleaning and rebuilding them blind-folded. This was a visualization exercise, forcing us to think about where specific parts go, how they’re unbuilt and rebuilt, and an early introduction to the fetishization of object and process—a foundational aspect of sculpture.

I learned how to weld when I was thirteen in order to put robots together for an after-school program, a new skill set built on the mechanical knowledge I’d gained within the caving community married with industrial working knowledge. By the time I was fourteen, my brothers and I had helped to build an addition on my parents house and had reroofed it almost entirely on our own. We also used these skills in the building of tree houses and castle turrets in our yard.

From there, I took every art and engineering class my high school offered, then pursued degrees at the New York School’s College of Ceramics at Alfred University (2008) and Arizona State University (2014). In 2015, I founded Zokaites Sculpture L.L.C. in Tempe, Arizona to help secure my first permanent public art commission, and I’ve been working full-time as a sculptor ever since.
 
  What keeps you motivated throughout the day?
Generally the work itself is exciting enough to make me want to wear myself out on it.
What is your favorite shop tool and why?
The forklift. I like to build big things, so the big tools come in handy.
 
  What's your favorite piece that you've worked on?
Challenges are fun; there’s always a way through. Because of the surrounding hardscape, hanging “The Oculus” (steel and polyurethane, 18’ x 18’ x 4’) should’ve required a prohibitively large crane; figuring out how to use three chainfalls instead made the whole project feel like one hell of an accomplishment.
If you could have any job as it relates to question 1 what would it be and what would you do with that?
Any well-supported arts projects, publicly or privately funded, are a blast to work on. It’s all about the unique challenges and opportunities, the site-specific problem-solving, and expanding my vocabulary as a sculptor by learning new communities and meeting new people.
 
 
What BA product is your favorite and why?
Flap wheels, easy! Much of the work coming out of the studio is a combination of heavy steel components decorated with sheet metal skins. Because many of our sculptures are based on the natural environment, the forms are often organic, and organic is often curvy. To get that right curvature, we create faceted surfaces and use flap wheels to tidy up the seams.
What BA product surprised you in terms of quality - what about it set it apart from the competition?
The BA flap wheels are also a favorite for their durability, and their variety—our studio hand, Emery, can vouch for ‘em, too.
 
 
What tips and tricks do you have for us that might be different or eye opening for others to try with BA product?
Well, we’ve learned the hard way that you should always patch all of your hoses before trying to use your pneumatic sander...and that it also helps if you have a big enough air compressor to keep up with the task. Oh, also, these days I always wear my apron — saves on t-shirts.
If there was one person you could collaborate with - who would it be and why?
Nick Offerman -- because Brancusi’s dead? I mean, Offerman’s another rural maker who’s grappled with working in the urban environment, he’s developed a persona that’s helped with the success of his practice(s), and now, damn, to have access to his resources and national platform? Plus a whisky partnership? What a dream.
 
 
Do you have any advice for the next generation that you wish you had when you first started?
Treat your labor as capital. For many of us, it’s working up from minimum wage grunt work to running your own stuff; it’s about collecting the tools, building out infrastructure, so on, and your labor is a significant part of the equation. At different points, it was the only capital I had. This is just a more explicit way of saying: don’t sell yourself short.
What are your future plans for your shop?
We’ve been working on dirt, out of a one-car garage, on an empty lot, for the last four years. This winter, we plan on finally building out our full studio. Please follow us at @bobbyzokaites on Instagram — we’re going to be announcing a Kickstarter that’ll help make this happen, with a lot of different ways to support.
 
 
Thanks for sitting with us and sharing your story with the community - is there anything you'd like to add?  
Have fun!

 

A Note From Leo
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Bobby! It's pretty surreal being able to work solely on large scale sculptures.. "The Oculus" piece is phenomenally done.



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