The Junk Man

Growing up in the beach town of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Peter Giovenco was a pretty observant and resourceful kid. He watched in awe one day while a road crew tore up his neighborhood street during a repaving project.

"Being a little kid, seeing a machine dig up half of the Earth, just fascinated me -- just this enormous machinery in front of my house," he recalls.

The image stuck with the impressionable ten-year-old, who already had a thing for junk. "I remember being really young and going on hunts for scrap metal and making things out of it in the back yard," he explains.

So it's only natural that, sixteen years later, he's both a welder and metal sculptor who scours junk yards looking for materials to help create his futuristic-looking works of art. At the top of his list are discarded heavy-machinery parts, which, after being put through Giovenco's creative mill, sell for fairly big bucks.

He once stumbled across a bulldozer drive-chain featuring foot-long links. Back at Industrial Art, his Fort Lauderdale shop and studio, he transformed the chain into a postindustrial TV stand. Sprouting from a metal base, the chain zig-zags its way, at 45-degree angles, to the TV platform it supports. The links are fused together with welds strong enough to support dozens of sets. That security, however, comes at a cost: $2000.

While a machine part isn't everyone's idea of decor, the TV stand is a hybrid of Giovenco's two main styles: abstract sculpture and utilitarian pieces, such as his display racks for clothing stores. The two styles complement each other: If Giovenco tires of toiling over a piece of furniture, he simply walks to the other side of the shop and resumes working on one of his artistic pieces.

"Reincarnator" came together that way. Welded in such a way that they appear to be spilling into a long metal funnel are objects representing the world's "evils," according to Giovenco. A chain saw blade symbolizes the destruction of rain forests; the spout of an oil drum, oil spills. The ending is a happy one, however. From the bottom of the funnel grows a metal rose. Giovenco says that "Reincarnator" is a vision of a future in which tools of destruction are used to create something beautiful.

Though the piece was recently completed, a patina of rust makes it look decades old. "It's an antique from the future," Giovenco explains. "It's something that people centuries from now would find during an archaeological dig."

Whether his work is covered with rust or polished to a silvery shine doesn't matter; Giovenco loves the "natural" look of metal. He uses paint only when customers request it. Rust alone provides plenty of color. At just the right moment in the deterioration process, metal takes on an orange-brown hue. At that point Giovenco usually halts the rust process by applying a coat of clear sealant.

Sporting the oxidized look is "Life," which features two spiked, high-heeled shoes, one sitting atop an inverted-triangle pedestal, the other lying at its base, as if it's just fallen. The title of the piece is certainly appropriate; referring to the shoes, Giovenco says, "You're either up, or you're down."

Giovenco is up for Night Gallery, an art, music, and food event that will take place May 8 at Chili Pepper nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. On display will be works by Giovenco, Brian Ahlstrom, Michael Joseph, Michelle Lee, Stan Street, and Zuska.

And on the sidewalk in front of the club, Giovenco will conduct a spark-filled demonstration. Working behind a welding screen, which blocks the welding torch's ultraviolet rays, he'll fuse together prefabricated sections of a sculpture he's been working on.

"It's going to be symbolic of how vulnerable the Earth could be, as compared to how the Indians were when the Europeans came over and took their land," he explains. "They were content the way they were, and another alien life form could come and do the same thing to us."

-- John Ferri

Night Gallery will be held May 8 at Chili Pepper, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. See "Bars & Clubs" listings for musical acts slated for the evening. Doors open at 8 p.m.; those age 18 and older are welcome. Admission is $7. Call 954-525-5996.

 
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