January 2017 Featured Artist
Sacramento365 kicks off its 2017 Featured Artist series with a spark, interviewing metal sculpture artist and teacher Gina Rossi in her eclectic Midtown studio. A certified welder and self-described “thrasher”, the artist is best known for beautifying the sidewalks of Sacramento with her functional and experimental bike racks. But there’s more to Rossi than what she makes. The creative uses her loud and “very Italian” personality to give back to the community, teaching the fundamentals of welding and metal fabrication in hopes of unlocking the creative potential in others.
Read along and get to know the passions of the infectious, imaginative artist below.
Finding Her Inner Artist
While growing up with modest means, her household was rich in the creative spirit. Her father, a charcoal artist and trombone player, and mother, a painter, taught Rossi the importance of resourcefulness early on. With most of her family’s budget going to support the needs of her brother diagnosed cerebral palsy, her parents used unconventional materials – like cigarettes and hairbrushes – for their artistic endeavors. “According to my dad, cigarette ash is great for shading,” she jokes.
It’s no wonder that Rossi’s entree into abstract art was a makeshift sculpture made from a chain of socks attached to a wire hanger, a piece meant to entertain her mother and brother during his long hospital stays: “It wasn’t much, but it brought him joy and helped me realize how art connects people without words.”
Painting, especially performance painting, dominated her early years as an artist but limited for her out-of-the-box imagination. A visit to the studio of Fair Oaks-based artist Phill Evans changed the course of her artistic career — through welding, she realized could build the dimension and movement she wanted to add to her work.
Rossi studied at Oakland’s The Crucible, learning the fundamentals like arc welding, fabrication, lathing, etc. The experience was, at first, intimidating. “Welding is definitely a boy’s club and I was the only gal in the class,” she recalls. “But that shouldn’t stop anyone from learning [it]. Once you know the craft, the creative possibilities are endless.”
Rossi’s portfolio is a testament to her endurance, vivid imagination, and perfectionism. As she puts it, by the end of a piece, she ends up looking like a coal miner’s daughter. “I start off by blasting music in my studio and putting together the pieces that will make a foundation. The longer a piece sits in my studio, the more it evolves. I’ll stare and stare at it, looking for places to add material until I’m satisfied.”
From bike racks to sculptures made from recycled materials, all of her work gets its start in her open-air Midtown studio. Remodeled with help from her family, the former Hayes Brothers Collision Repair shop is now a cozy home to much of what she’s produced over the years.
Upstairs you’ll find a gallery space, showcasing recently completed pieces available for sale. (Right now you’ll find wine racks, a high-top card table, and a playful musician.) Downstairs, racks of organized gizmos and gadgets border the vast open area where Rossi leads her bi-monthly welding and fused glass classes. From youths to retirees, Rossi’s shares the skills that enabled her to find her true artistic calling. At first, there’s an understandable fear of the flame, “but once they trust me and themselves with [the torch], I see an immediate change in a person. A passion is literally ignited. I’m so grateful to witness a transformation in my students.”
Nice (Bike) Rack!
If you’re on the grid, chances are you’ve probably walked passed a Rossi original. Her whimsical bike racks succeed in breathing life and bringing art to our streets. Below are the locations of some of the artist’s most notable public pieces:
- Shoki Ramen House (1201 R Street): Her first commissioned piece, this sinuous dragon sculpture opened a floodgate of opportunities for Rossi, especially among Sacramento’s developers.
- Sacramento Zoo (3930 W Land Park Dr): This trio of animals — chimpanzee, cheetah, and giraffe – is made from re-purposed horseshoes. Within the giraffe is a heart dedicated to late zoo director Mary Healy.
- Zocalo (1801 Capitol Ave): Made from restaurant silverware and bike parts from the nearby Sacramento Bicycle Kitchen, this rack is an homage to Dia de los Muertos. Around the holiday, staff and community members have been seen placing flowers and candles around the piece.
- BevMo (1700 J St): A nod to the bevies inside, you won’t miss the martini glass or the larger-than-life corkscrew.
A Bright Year Ahead
2017 means new opportunities for Rossi. Along with finishing commissioned sculpture works for Elk Grove’s Siena Villas and the Sacramento SPCA, she’ll be embracing her role as a teaching artist. At her studio, she hopes to offer a certification course for those who’ve completed her intermediate welding and metal fabrication classes. A partnership with UC Davis’s Robotics Program is also in the works. While in its infancy, the upcoming project aims to introduce STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to juvenile offenders and at-risk youth living in Oak Park; Rossi will offer support as a welding instructor. “Being a part of something like this is incredibly important, especially since youth are not exposed to [industrial arts] in school anymore. Programs like this help teens tap into their creative and entrepreneurial selves.”
Defining the Artistic Spirit
What does being a creative mean to Rossi? “It’s the realization that everything is possible. I get into a zone where there’s no judgment and I’m free to unleash my deepest thoughts [and present them] in a physical form.” However, producing work is only half the fun; sharing her craft with others through classes is imperative to keeping her inspired. “When I see people, especially kids, let down their guard, that’s when the magic happens. Opening up the creative possibilities in others lets me know that I’m doing something right.”
And how can the rest of the public nurture and support those who create? Be present. “Come and take an art class, go to 2nd Saturday…whether you buy a piece or not, artists thrive off your energy,” she exclaims.
For Your Information
Get to know Rossi and her colorful personality with these fantastic artist factoids:
- Her thoughts on the controversial Golden 1 Center’s Jeff Koons Coloring Book No. 4? “I think it’s a great opportunity to bring art into the public sphere. How I see it, Sacramento is our home and public art is how we decorate our place. Who cares where the art comes from? If the piece complements our city, keep it. Some people are getting too attached to individual pieces; we need to look at the value of Sacramento public art as a whole.”
- Too bad Arsenio isn’t still on the air. Rossi is an avid saxophone player. You might catch her performing at a local open mic night.
- Rossi is a part-time nurse at Kaiser Permanente.
- The artist’s three guiltiest pleasures:
1) Letting loose and dancing with her girlfriends. Nightclubs Mix Downtown and Vanguard 1415 are local favorites.
2) Some like it hot! When “normal” dancing isn’t enough, Rossi plays with fire (literally), spinning poi and tossing fiery batons.
3) She’s a movie lover. Her favorite movie theater concessions — popcorn, Reese’s Pieces, and Hot Tomales.
- An avid animal lover, the artist creates warming sheds every winter for stray animals living near the Sacramento River.
- You’ll find Rossi every year at her favorite local event, Labor Day weekend’s Chalk It Up! For the Arts.
- Now that’s HUGE! One of Rossi’s latest metal sculptures, dubbed “Carl the Cart”, is a large-scale anthropomorphic trash can, located outside of Elk Grove’s Waste Management collection center.
Keep Up with Gina Rossi