Asheville artist Hoss Haley and his drawing machine come to town

by Cole Dittmer
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Staff photos by Allison Potter

Artist Hoss Haley, right, speaks with professor Dale Cohen as his drawing machine etches a painted steel panel during the opening reception of his show at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Art Gallery inside the Cultural Arts Building on Thursday, Feb. 23.


A flip of a switch, a whirr of electricity, two metal gyres begin to spin and Hoss Haley’s creation springs to life. No, Haley has not taken up the work of Doctor Frankenstein, but has created a drawing machine that etches patterns of circles and ovals into a steel surface covered in white Rust-Oleum paint. The works of art created by his drawing machine begin as simple circular patterns before bending and switching directions at the whim of the machine and creating a complex web of thin, curved lines.

Programed on the mathematical constant pi, the machine is driven by five actuators that are each assigned two digits in the pi sequence. Two arms hold the stylus functioning as X- and Y-axis planes. Every time the machine begins the actuator activates different mathematical sequences, causing the machine to produce distinctly different patterns each time.

Haley said that he had thought about building a drawing machine for a while and that he had a specific goal in mind for its functionality.

"It was originally programmed with regular changes so it was a little more controlled, but I really wanted to build a machine that had flexibility and could evolve, so we started programming it to run in random movements," Haley said. "I never want to have a machine dictate my art, so with this randomization and the pi sequencing, neither I nor the machine really has any control."

For his exhibit in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cultural Arts Building, Haley said, "I wanted everything to look very clean. I’ve also put industrial paint pens on the stylus to add color and to draw on pieces of raw steel."

Growing up in the western Kentucky farmlands, Haley said that he started working with metal and welding from an early age.

"I feel most comfortable working with steel, I love that it is a very pedestrian medium in that I can just drive down to the scrapyard and pick it up," Haley said. "I have a lot of industrial influences; there’s always some forging or hammering going on in my shop."

In a lecture before the opening of his exhibit on Thursday, Feb. 23, Haley presented a slideshow of his Asheville studio and various projects and commission pieces he had completed. A natural engineer, he has built two hydraulic presses that help him bend and form sheets of metal up to a half-inch thick that he shapes into art. One of Haley’s most prominent commissions was for a fountain that stands in the middle of Asheville’s downtown area in which tons of roughly hewn boulders rise through the center of a brass
20-foot diameter ring.

"I was thinking about the Blue Ridge Parkway when designing that, just the juxtaposition of something manmade weaving through nature," Haley said.

Hoss Haley’s Drawing Machine exhibit will be on display in the art gallery of the Cultural Arts Building until March 30. For directions, visit www.uncw.edu

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