Scrap metal gets new life as robot night lights

Artist Tal Avitzur combs California scrapyards for bits of old brass and reimagines them as robots. The LED-blinking night lights, which contain parts like taxidermy animal eyes, can lend a surreal cast to a corner of your bedroom.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
Avitzur's "Throttler " sculpture was made from a discarded marine throttle, pump, wing nuts, and a refrigeration accumulator. Tal Avitzur

Tal Avitzur is obsessed with collecting what he calls "retro junk." The California artist spends hours sifting through scrapyards to find parts for the whimsical robots he dreams up.

At his Talbotics studio in Santa Barbara, Avitzur has created dozens of bots that are creepy, cute, alien, or just plain bizarre. Many are more than just ornamental -- they work as night lights, illuminating dark rooms with their otherworldly LED eyes.

Some of his "Talbots" feature unexpected parts like vacuum cleaner motor housings, dolls, winches, clutches, floor polishers, meat grinder blades, taxidermy animal eyes, and old boat fittings.

"Some unusual parts that I recently acquired are an aluminum dental mannequin head, a dark room enlarger lamp, and a wooden foundry mold from the Pennsylvania railroad," Avitzur says.

"I seem to use a lot of old vacuum cleaners, floor polishers, power tools and kitchen appliances. I think the designers of the vintage vacuums and tools, back in the 1940s and 1950s, would rather have been creating rocket ships and robots, and expressed these desires in their designs."

His hauls often include metal objects of indeterminate origin. But whatever they were originally, the scrap-metal bits take on a new life as a robot with a distinct look and personality. He gives his Talbots names like Jigsy, Sentry, and Primo.

"It's difficult to say which are my favorites," he says of his sculpted machines, which come in humanoid or wall-mount forms. "I get very caught up in creating each one. They all feel like family to me."

Avitzur's love of scrap-metal bots began with a trip to a local yard when he was looking to incorporate metal objects in a kitchen countertop remodeling job. It soon became his passion.

He draws inspiration from the sci-fi shows he watched and comic books he read in his youth, as well as his ability to look at found objects with the mind of a child.

He puts in hours disassembling, cleaning, polishing, drilling, and otherwise modifying components, some 50 to 80 years old, that go into his imaginary robots.

Robots: From junk to functional art (pictures)

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Several are usually on the go at once, with some waiting months for the right part to find its way into Avitzur's hands and complete the desired look.

"I have around 10 heads in the workshop now waiting for just the right bodies," he says. "A piece always starts with a found object that looks like it would make a good robot head or some other body part. Then it's like a puzzle, playing around and matching other body parts that seem to be in the right proportions and fit with the initial piece."

Avitzur recently started selling his creations as ornaments and night lights. Check out his sculptures in the gallery above or visit his Web site here.

Personally, I'd always rather have something that goes beep in the night instead of bump.