Meet a Maker: Robert Dancik

Robert Dancik’s health conscious approach to art making led him to to develop is own material called faux bone. You can read about this and much more in our interview below.

You also have an opportunities to meet the manduring his visit to Contemporary Craft this April. Dancik will be introducing his creation during his visiting artist workshop, Faux Bone: Material Magic, on April 9th, 2016. If you would prefer to play around with concrete, consider taking Concrete: Solid Expression, on April 10th, 2016. Both of these workshops are sure to be a unique and informative experience.

CC: Tell us about yourself and educational background? 

Robert Dancik Faux Bones PendantRobert Dancik (RD): My formal education in art started in undergraduate school. After trying out majors such as physics, architecture, political science and economics (I really thought that was going to be my field of endeavor) I found that where I felt most at home was in the few art classes I had taken. In the last semester of my junior year I switched to art as my major and took nothing but various art courses.

Upon graduation I thought I would return to working on boats. I had worked transporting them from New York to Florida – but then one of my painting teachers encouraged me to go to graduate school and got me an assistantship at Northern Illinois University. It’s one of those big Mid-western schools with lots of students and a great football team. I thought I would study ceramics but then I met the head of the sculpture department. He convinced me to go in that direction and I loved it. I got my masters degree in sculpture and with nothing else to do and virtually no experience of any sort, I tried to get a teaching job. After 43 rejections I got the last possibility on my list and began a long career teaching art – first for 15 years to little kids, kindergarten through 6th grade, and then high school.

Concurrently I taught a number of universities teaching three-dimensional design, sculpture and the last 15 years graduate education courses. Now I teach around the US and abroad working mostly with adults but also the occasional children’s class.

As far as jewelry and related areas, I’m pretty much self taught but for me jewelry is really just sculpture on a smaller scale with the body as the environment instead of a room or a landscape.

CC: Who were some of your mentors and influences?

RD: When it comes to influences/mentors I would say that Marcel Duchamp is by far the biggest influence on me as an artist. It’s not what he made as much as how he thought that I find both inspiring and informative. I also look a good deal at the work of Rodin, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois and Joseph Bueys.

In the field of jewelry, Bob Ebendorf has been both a major influence and a friend and mentor. Tim McCreight (one of the smartest people I know) has also been a huge influence for his insight into the creative process as much as his work and writing. Other jewelry artists whose work is an influence and important to me include (but not limited to) Marjorie Simon, Art Smith, Keith LoBue, Richard Salley, Jim Cotter and Melanie Muir.

CC: You developed a new material, Faux Bone. Can you talk a little bit about this material? Any interesting stories during the development process?

Robert Dancik faux bones bangleRD: Faux Bone began when I first cut up a PVC pipe, heated it and flattened it out under the breadboard in my kitchen. I started making jewelry from the flattened pieces by cutting, forming, patina, and polishing the PVC so that it looked like bone. People liked the work and it sold immediately. When I started to teach workshops, people asked me to show the material in class. However, it was very toxic and I never teach with toxic materials. People asked me to find PVC that wasn’t toxic, but I thought all PVC was toxic. After casting about for a couple of years I finally found a type of PVC that wasn’t toxic in any way and was easy to work and affordable for artists. Thus was the beginning of Faux Bone.

Since then I have developed it in various thicknesses and have it available in different configurations including sheet, bracelet and ring blanks and strips.

It’s easily cut and can be sanded and polished with no special equipment. It can be heated with nothing more than an embossing gun (or popped in the oven) and it becomes like a cooked noodle which can then be formed and when cool remains in that configuration. However, if you make a mistake or want to change the piece, it can be re-heated and it will return to its original shape.

People all around the world use it for various work including jewelry, tools, die forming, print-making , toys, gun and knife handles an much more. Virtually any tool in the studio/shop can be used on the Faux Bone and it can be finished to resemble bone, ivory, ceramics or any number of other materials.

It bears repeating that Faux Bone is not toxic in any way! I have had it tested by several university labs as well as OSHA and the MSDS show that it is completely safe in every way. Of course if it burns it gives off toxic fumes but that is not a function of Faux Bone, but rather the fact that everything that burns is toxic. However, if the flame is removed from the material, it is self-extinguishing.

CC: Can you describe your artistic practice, conceptual inquiries, etc.

RD: My artistic practice mostly consists of what I call “play”. However, for me play is a serious endeavor. It means that I often sit at my bench and start working with a material, form, or technique that I might like to find out more about or possibly include in a piece of work. I work for a time with whatever it is that I have at hand and at some point I stop. Than I put it aside, but – and this is the most important part – I don’t judge it! I may think “I like that” or “That’s interesting” or “That’s not working for me like that,” but that’s not judging. Saying that’s good or bad – that’s judging. If I judge, it limits me in further development or possibly using that material or technique at some later time in a different situation.

In classes, I always ask my students when was the last time you got to the end of a project and didn’t judge it. The answer to my query almost always – never!

Arc Brooch

Conceptually, I usually begin by asking myself, “what do I have to say?” I believe that all artwork says something and rather than just making to make, I like to think a bit before I start with any material. I sort of check in with how I am feeling about myself, my environment, the people around me, the planet etc. I often draw for a while to see how my concerns may manifest physically. I then translate those thoughts/concerns into a piece of work, reacting to what the material has to say about my process and how I can best marry what it want’s to do with what I want it to do.

CC: What are you currently work on?

RD: I am presently working a lot with a new concrete I developed and have just brought to market. I am using it in various forms of jewelry and small sculpture. I also just bought a mig welder and will be using it to work on iron wire and sheet to make both jewelry and sculpture.

Robert Dancik faux bones pendantAny advice for future artists?

Try everything. Go everywhere you can and look at everything around you. Listen to what people have to say about all sorts of things and try to consider various viewpoints. Then process all this and see what comes out in work.

We are all artists when we’re kids. For me, it’s remembering how I saw things then and recapturing that spirit. With this in mind I often quote the sage and wise character Winnie the Pooh when he asked, “I wonder what exciting will happen today.”