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June 2012
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Bringing Art to Life or A Robot Resurrection

Story by Jessica Perkins Photography by Thomas Dean Stewart

It's not unusual for Randall and Kayla Griggs to come home to an odd item or two left on the front porch of their Fountain Avenue bungalow by an enthusiastic admirer of Randall's artwork. Old metal fans, televisions and a variety of other "junk" often find their way to the Griggs home. Some items are incorporated into one of Randall's sculptures, while other pieces are shipped off to another destination.

Randall spends months, sometimes almost a year, searching out the perfect pieces with which to build his elaborate metal robots. He is meticulous about his process and design, transforming the stories that fill his head into characters that possess unique personalities and detailed histories.

"They all have a story. I know where all of them come from," he says.

Though art has always been part of Randall's fiber, it has not always been how he paid the bills. For years, Randall followed in his father and grandfather's footsteps, working on the river. That was a reliable path for him until he was seriously injured and no longer able to do the work.

To fill his time during his recovery, Randall designed logos and screen-printed posters and signs for local businesses, bands and anyone who hired him to do graphic design work. It wasn't long before he began experimenting with robot sculpture designs.

The Griggses found an old gas lantern. Randall inserted metal screws to make eyes and without even intending to create one, a robot soon came to life. This was the first character in a long line of robots that the artist has created.

"It was just like the universe made it to where he was supposed to be an artist. If he hadn't gotten hurt on the river he wouldn't be doing this," Randall's wife, Kayla, says.

Like any task worth doing, Randall's work can be tedious. There are days when he is frustrated enough to give up. However, with encouragement from Kayla and a good night's sleep he brushes off the discouragement and gets back to work within a day or two.

"It's a way for me to articulate what's going on in my head instead of bottling it up," Randall says. "I have those moments when I just have to get it out and be done with it."

Something that makes this sculptor's work challenging is that it requires just the right object to create the characters that live in his imagination.

"Some of them don't work. Some of them are involved in different stories completely. I'll spend days putting different heads and arms on them. I have to figure out exactly what I want to use," he says.

The idea for Randall's robot "Gordon" began as an early drawing and didn't take final form as a robot until he was given the opportunity to sift through rustic, seemingly useless items in the Columbia Theatre.

"Once I found the things in the Columbia, I knew they were the pieces that I needed to use (for Gordon)," Randall says.

Something else that makes Randall's robots unique is that he often incorporates sentimental objects in his sculptural creations, such as the factory worker he created from a beer nuts can that belonged to his mother and a Coca-Cola bottle opener that hung on the wall when he was a child.

As his work evolves, Randall looks back at his early work with a mixture of pride and humility.

"You get better at it as you go," Randall says. "I kind of like that my old ones are not 100 percent symmetrical. It gives them personality."

Randall says that Kayla gives his life and work balance. When he's stumped for an idea or feels overwhelmed she is always there to offer support, suggestions and encouragement.

"I wouldn't care if he made any money with it or not. His happiness is what is most important," she says. "I've always wanted him to follow his passion, to do something he loves to do."

Apart from his accident and the encouragement he receives from family and friends, Randall says he wouldn't have the confidence to sell his work and his house would be filled with robots.

"Work is work and thank God that I get to make art," Randall says. "I'm thankful that I get to do what I want to do and most people don't get to do that."

Randall's robots recently appeared in a gallery exhibition in New Harmony, Indiana, and one is permanently housed at Mellow Mushroom. Those who wish to purchase a robot or illustrated screen prints can find them at Bricolage Art Collective in Paducah's historic downtown and Ochre, located in the historic Coke Plant in Midtown. n

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