Portrait of a Robot Man

Martin Horspool is The Robot Man. A printer by trade, he's made a second/tandem career out of foraging in flea markets, op-shops and scrap metal yards looking for the right sort of 'junk' that may morph into some appendage or other, on one of his future, retro-bots. He's had exhibitions at Deus ex Machina, Letham Gallery and Splore in Auckland, is a frequent contributor to the SteampunkFestival in Oamaru, continues doing commissions for collectors in New York and Australia; has a dealer in Amsterdam and is regularly asked to make memorial figures for families of deceased fathers, uncles, brothers who have left workshops full of heritage tools. On top of that, his creations continue to crop up as the Orca Trophy (an award for best radio ads.) 

 He says,"People think I am into science fiction but I’m more into Antiques Roadshow, I’m into the design. I think the last Science Fiction I watched was the first Star Trek series in me Mum and Dad’s house. My brain is probably untarnished by any modern Sci Fi. I’m still in the 1960’s."  

  "I get my inspiration from the objects. They tell a story and provide the flavour for each robot." 

Unbeknownst to me I visit Martin on his birthday. He's building himself a present, a dream motorbike much like the ones he used to draw on his history exercise book at school.

As with all his creations his motorbike building process is achieved with rivets, nuts and bolts. "When your joining stainless to aluminium to cast, it's impossible to weld. You’d destroy the paintwork and I quite like painted metal. So I make brackets and attach things."

"I collect beautiful design objects and use them as a celebration of their aesthetic, making something handsome as well with it. They are cartoon like my drawings. Strange but true. It's all vintage. When I’m out searching for bits, I’m looking for things from the 1950’s and 60’s, the era of design I’m interested in."

 The thing that set Horspool off on his robotic expedition, his "Eureka moment," was an exhibition of Greer Twiss’s assemblage portraits. " I thought this is amazing. A family portrait, made of household furniture handles, coat hooks and bit of metal like curtain rails.  It was celebrating all the domestic bits and pieces. I thought, I wouldn’t mind one of these but wow they are expensive. I couldn’t afford one so I went home and tried to make one of my own.

  "I started making insects and bugs. I like drawing insects and they look mechanical. I have some drawings of insects with pneumatics on their legs and springs that retract the wings, so I started making them from all these old lamp parts. The lamp shade becomes the body. A 1960’s pushbike lamp becomes the head and you can use knitting needles and fondue forks for the legs, fish slices for the wings. Tea strainers for compound eyes.
After having a successful exhibition of his photography at the Letham Gallery in Ponsonby, the gallery then asked him to exhibit the next year. "I went home and I thought robots. Everybody likes those Japanese tin robots. I always wanted a collection myself. So I started building them, giving them each a personality just from putting found objects together."  

  "Half the joy is in the process finding a 3d puzzle attaching A to B and then C to A and its all got to stand up, be solid and relatively correct proportionally. Without making it obvious that he’s had a big bolt here and there."  

His 'Splore-Bot family' has been one of his greater logistical challenges to date. "The bigger they are the harder they are to work on, especially when you’re making them to stand up on their own at a festival. You just don’t know what state people may be in, when they start playing with your piece!"

He reckons some people assume he lives "on the top of a scrap pile."

"But," he says, "I know what is at the bottom of these boxes and if I’m unsure I can tip all these boxes onto a board."

Recently he's been experimenting with robot wall art using Ironing boards and vintage fridge doors and badges.

As well, he's always constantly on the look out for crowd scenes to photograph for his ongoing series and extension of his self published book, "The Robots Roadtrip." 

Though the most rewarding of Martin's Bot builds of late, have been for families celebrating the lives of their lost loved-ones. "I've had a few families approach me now. They usually say something like, 'Our father died and we have to sort out his garage. Can you come round and resurrect something of our father from the parts and his tools.' I ask them to give me a list of details; hobbies, what he looked like, tall, thin, fat, hair etc. One robot took a couple of weeks to build. I took around and the kids both started crying. It was like some kind of spiritual father robot. I used his old steel comb as his hair and things that they remembered. They didn’t have much to remember him by cos he was always in the garage working with his tools."

"When someone spends all their time in a shed with their tools, they get intimate with their tools."

Vicariously he gets a feel for the person. "It's amazing when I have the pick of a shed of beautiful things to work with. To be part of a family’s grieving process, is really satisfying and the robot becomes like a family heirloom.

You can check out more of Martins work at http://www.buggyrobot.com/  and for those in Auckland, his latest photographic exhibition 'Portrait of a Robot' opens at the Salvation Kitchen, Monday, July 14.
all images ©burgseye 2014