Chris O’Rourke Turns Love of Metal Fabrication into a Fine Art
Chris O’Rourke didn’t always work in metal. Wood was the material he started with as he sat in his maternal grandfather’s garage.
“He would precut pieces of wood for my brother and I, and we would sit there and round the corners by hand with sandpaper,” he said. “Then we'd put them together and stain them and make cool little things. My grandfather is one of the most instrumental men in my life; he got me into working with my hands.”
At 16, his love of cars transitioned him from wood to metal. Working on cars morphed into working on motorcycles. “They’re like hoodless cars; all the work you do to them is on display 24/7,” O’Rourke said. “Getting into the motorcycle aspect of things got me fired up for fabrication.”
O’Rourke began working on custom motorcycles with Pat Kennedy, considered the godfather to long bikes—motorcycles designed to be longer in the front. Kennedy fabricated many of the parts he used on his bikes and O’Rourke became his apprentice.
“He bought all those supplies to sand the metal pieces down, grind and weld them and make them look like jewelry,” O’Rourke explained. “He said, ‘I want you to make this piece I just made look good; figure it out.’ I love a challenge, so I was all over it. And because my fabrication career started with learning how to finish, I’m mindful of what it takes to make a good finished product.”
While working for a tool and die manufacturer, O’Rourke perfected his metal-welding techniques. Custom bikes were not mainstream back in the early 1990s, so he put his talents to fabricating neon signs, then home furnishings. “I realized I wanted to make something different, something freestanding where it's only purpose is to look cool, not be part of something else,” he said. “That's when I got into designing and fabricating sculpture.”
The inspiration for some of O’Rourke’s early pieces didn’t come until they were partially completed. He recycled metal from other projects with no real thought of the final design. “I felt compelled to put certain pieces together to figure out what the shape could be—an experiment in shape and line,” he explained.
As he became more established in his art, O’Rourke was able to buy materials and concentrate more on designing his sculptures. He continually works on refining his fabrication techniques—cutting, bending, finishing and welding. “The human hand cannot produce perfection but what sets apart a true artisan from everybody else is to strive for that perfection every time, while knowing full well you can't get there,” he said.
O’Rourke, who lives in Las Vegas with his wife and children, continues to work in the fabrication industry while pursuing his dream of metal art over the past eight years. Once addicted to drugs and alcohol, he celebrates his 22 years of sobriety.
“I am still an addict, though, but now I'm addicted to creating beauty and getting that ‘How did you do this?’ reaction—even from my peers in fabrication, the guys I look up to,” O’Rourke said. “It’s the fire that burns under me.”