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Long island City business molds metal into art

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Claudio Gonzalez wants to spread art to the masses.

Gonzalez, the president of Renaissance Studio Casting in Long Island City, is rolling out a series of public art classes only eight months after founding his own metal casting business.

“It’s important for people to have an outlet,” Gonzalez said recently as he paced the concrete floor of his new studio, where his own outlet is creating objects from metal. “Through arts and crafts people have a relief. They definitely feel like they’re the masters of something. It’s a creative process — people enjoy doing it.”

The first workshop in the series is a two-weekend course in jewelry design that will start May 31 and end June 8.

“The idea is when people leave that workshop, they’ll be able to wear whatever was in their mind,” Gonzalez said. “So people really see the results and really get engaged.”

Gonzalez, 31, co-founded Renaissance Studio Casting in September with Marianne Gill, an antique and art collector who concentrates on the business side of the company while Gonzalez runs its day-to-day operations.

Their space sprawls across the second story of a loft building on 34th Street in Long Island City, half a block north of Queens Boulevard and only two blocks from MoMA QNS.

Although his specialty is producing metal pieces — whether sculpture or components of furniture — his vision is much broader.

Even his space reflects the idea of celebrating a community of artists. His own studio occupies a small fraction of the floor, which is divided by clear Plexiglas walls into small studios that he rents out to painters, architects, jewelry artists and graphic designers.

Natural light floods the entire space, which he hopes to eventually christen as the Renaissance Artisan Center to reflect the diverse group of artists who are based there.

Currently a resident of Middle Village, Gonzalez moved to the United States in July 1991 from Chile.

“When I came to New York, I realized this is the capital of the art world,” he said. “If I’m going to study, I’m going to study art.”

Study he did, earning a degree in art and advertising design through classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology and New York City Technical College. During the day he worked as an apprentice to a metal caster, which helped pay for his evening coursework.

After graduating he jumped from job to job, starting at an ad agency for a year, then moving on to open a restaurant and, finally, an art magazine in Williamsburg called “11211” — for the neighborhood’s zip code.

“I’ve been all over the place but always with the arts,” Gonzalez said of his myriad jobs.

But each time the fit was never quite right.

“I realized it’s a different thing to cook for money than to cook for friends,” he said of his Brooklyn restaurant, Ucelli’s, where he lasted a year. “When you cook for money, you cook for pressure; when you cook for friends, you cook for joy.”

So he landed back in the casting business and last year decided to step out on his own.

A typical client, he said, would be “a cabinet maker or furniture designer who might have metal pieces they’d like to incorporate in their wood.”

He also gets a lot of business from artisans who restore antique furniture.

“They’re always missing pieces,” he said. “There’s no way to get them back unless you reproduce them.”

Gonzalez recreates a piece by immersing it in a silicon mold, which he slices open to remove the original once it hardens into a rubbery texture. He injects hot wax into the mold to create a replica of the original, then pours liquid plaster on top of the wax version — essentially creating a second mold.

Once the plaster hardens he puts the mold — with the wax version still inside — into an oven to burn the wax away, then fills the model with metal at a precisely controlled temperature.

After letting it cool for about 15 minutes, he dips the still hot plaster casing into cold water, which dissolves the plaster and leaves only the finished product.

“Once it dissolves,” he said, “if you reach inside and pick it up, it is a piece made of metal.”

For more information about the company, call 718-707-0021, or visit their Web site at www.renaissancestudiocasting.com.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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