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.
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.”
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:
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.”
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.
Get to know Rossi and her colorful personality with these fantastic artist factoids: