I discovered today the incredibly singular art of Thomas Kuntz, sculptor and automata-maker, whose attention to detail and meticulous micro-machining, together with his gloriously creative character-creations, create magic.
Note: All photos here are taken from his website, except the pencil drawings, which were poached from an interview in Movement Magazine.
The first automaton I want to show you is called Death and Resurrection--for reasons that will become clear when you watch the video, but before you do, notice (image at top of post) the level of detail in the mask: all the ladies that become the parts of its face, and the one that creates the beard which serves as the handle.
Below, the mask hiding and then showing the man about to be sent to death and returned...
Notice the astonishingly human expression...the detail. And wait till you see his eyes move....
Not only do you get to see him in action in this video, his particular trick of rebirth, but you also see some of the steps the alchemist took in his creation:
I love the style of this next one, and the idea itself is splendid. The couple sits in casual decadence:
...but the moment she turns her head, his true flavor comes out:
In an interview with Max Michaels for Movement Magazine, he said, "I feel very much at home with the old German expressionist/Weimar republic era films. To me the Expressionists idea of capturing "stimmung" (vibrations of the soul) rather than what is generally accepted as reality is much more on target and runs deep into the psyche."
But my favorite, the one that first knocked me over, combines two of my recent obsessions--the automaton (clearly) and the ghost:
Described in his own words:
"This campy miniature automaton by Thomas Kuntz was a one-off made for a client who in turn gave it as a gift to her fellow who loves magic and the haunted mansion.It features a miniature pepper's ghost illusion, two automaton figures, a pop-up rose and a small 18 note music box of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven.The mechanism is hand cranked and machined from solid brass steel and other metals all very tightly organized into the rather small cabinet, visual foreshortening and special painting gives the impression that the box is much deeper than it actually is!.It has a small hand cranked curtain that can be closed when it is not in use. All of the figures, engineering,machining painting , ornamental details and model work are by Thomas Kuntz. The miniature organist's costume was made by Blake Bolger."
(Blake Bolger worked in makeup arts and special effects in such movies as the Exorcist, Team America, and Thor.)
A Pepper's Ghost is an old illusionist's trick using plate glass and special lighting. A room is set; another room is hidden to the side. Between the visible room and the viewer, a sheet of plate glass is set at a perfect diagonal, so that when the light is turned on in the mirror room (simultaneously dimmed in the "visible" room, the hidden room becomes visible in the plate glass. Or the hidden room is black, except for the ghostly figure whose apparition you want to create, in which case, only that figure will appear when the light is raised, superimposed over the hidden room. He uses it beautifully here, and the whole piece is spectacular--I can't imagine a better gift!
Simon Drake interviewed him for Bizarre magazine in 2010, in which he said, "“I hesitate to use the word ‘robotics’ to describe what I do, because nowadays it conjures images of institutional science, sci-fi, films like Star Wars or military and industrial machinery. All of which is related to, but totally different from what I do. So I figured I’d label myself before others had a chance to!”
He did so by coining the term "haxanthrobotic," which Drake defines as "a performing figure that seems to be moving by supernatural means." He created this term through the combination of three words: 'häxa' (witch), 'anthro' (man), and 'robot,' stemming from the Czech robota (“drudgery, servitude”). His work--his art-- clearly reflects and succeeds at his desire to remind us that "all science started as magic."
Mr. Drake went through his workshop with him and described this lively stage of one work:
Thomas is putting the finishing touches to the incredible ‘L’Oracle du Mort’, a fortune-telling magician. You insert your questions on a tablet and it predicts your future with uncannily natural articulation.
Towards the end of the machine’s cycle, he whispers to me, “Stand back a bit” – and a two-foot gas flame shoots from a small demonic oil lamp. “Sorry about that, it’s still at the testing stage, I really must turn it down a bit,” he says, as I laugh – and check if I need a change of pants.
Some of his drawings:
And some more magic....this time, I have no idea how....
You can see much more of his magic in action here.
My current obsession with such a style of creation has been festering for a long time, but went into full swing as I was reading the fantastic book Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway. I hope to post more on that soon, but in the meantime, READ IT, and if you need more encouragement than that, there's a fantastic interview with the author on the Coilhouse blog, here.