Kevin Reaves’s Killer Robots Invade the Art World; Calamity Ensues

Posted: August 17, 2009 in Threat Quality
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[A new submission by Jennifer Culp.   Jennifer Culp is a metalsmith; she earned a B.F.A. with a concentration in Jewelry and Metalsmithing in Spring 2009. Her website (which is still in progress but has lots of pretty pictures) can be viewed here:]

EndOfTheWeekKevin Reaves’s small-scale automatons are motionless and lifeless, but speak eloquently about the condition of individuals in the modern American workforce. “I feel like our society is so damn automated,” says Reaves. “Working in retail, the public just seems so robotic.”

After a debauched young adulthood (involving several incidences of evading pursuing policemen) and subsequent long, dreary stint of working at Toys-R-Us, Reaves’s early interest in comics and action figures resurfaced. “I didn’t come to school intending to become an artist. I wanted to refine my skills and become a toy maker,” rather than continue assembling bicycles for a retail chain. Once enrolled in a university art program, Reaves discovered he wasn’t content to create objects devoid of conceptual consideration. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in jewelry and metalsmithing in 2008, finding it a perfect fit for his aesthetic and ideological interests. Metal, he found, was a uniquely appropriate medium to represent his visions of a mechanized humanity, and he was drawn to the process of fabrication and the work’s permanence after completion. “Also,” he adds, “I like fire.”

Reaves’s working style is intensely fabrication focused. Each piece begins as a collection of tiny parts; if asked, he can recall the exact number of parts in each of his works. He begins by cutting and smithing the piece’s basic geometric shapes from sheet and casting any necessary additions, then solders everything together, assembling the disparate parts into a cohesive whole. The resulting work looks deceptively uncomplicated.

It’s fascinating to watch one of Reaves’s pieces develop from conception to completion. Though power tools make some processes quicker and more convenient—and Reaves doesn’t hesitate to use them when possible—metalsmithing techniques have changed little since the Bronze Age. The very processes Reaves uses to make each piece involve intense manual labor and adaptation to challenge. Antithetical to mindless, machine-based, assembly-line construction, the act of making each robot protests a workplace that turns human beings into mindless automatons, performing their roles out of habit.

Reaves is not quite as anal retentive as many metalsmiths, preferring to leave tiny imperfections in his pieces rather than spend hours sanding out one scratch, or disassemble an entire construction to hammer out one minute dent. Invisible at a distance of more than a few inches, such flaws reveal the human hand behind the work and lend the robots themselves a very human, world-weary quality. The copper and bronze colors of the robots initially sprung from necessity—silver is expensive—but serve to emphasize the little guys’ human frailty with their warm, relatively skin-like tones and lack of cold, shiny silver.

Reaves’s robots don’t look emotionless or uninviting; they resemble the toys he was initially interested in making. Automated Humanity, one of Reaves’s early undergraduate works, shows a robot sitting on a toilet, reading the newspaper.


The absurdity of seeing a machine do something so undignified and organic as defecation is certainly funny, and suggestive of the ridiculous situations we, as humans, commonly find ourselves embroiled in. End of the Week continues that hint of pathos, perhaps more strongly, with its subject passed out in a recliner and surrounded by beer bottles, a remote control fallen from its hand. The routine, never-varying work of an automaton has, in this case, driven one to drink.

AcrobotAcrobot, a tiny character (the robot itself is about an inch tall, in contrast to the six to twelve inch height typical of Reaves’s work) balances precariously on a chair, holding another chair up in the palm of one hand. This little jester amuses, reflecting the uncomfortable and all too identifiable difficulty of attempting to make juggling anything—chairs, responsibilities—look easy.

By contrast, Expendable Youth, Reaves’s most recent piece, is a giant; at two feet tall, it is a phenomenal display of technical skill.


Soldering such long seams requires a great amount of heat, and it’s very difficult to assemble a work of such size without warping the pieces due to the necessary temperature. The robot, holding a huge gun, towers over a landscape of broken teddy bears. Resembling a fantastic toy (it certainly dominated those teddy bears), this robot might seem more aspirational to a child who might play with it than some of Reaves’s earlier pieces. More grimly, however, it reflects his concern for the conformity-enforcing, creativity-deadening nature of the United States’ K-12 educational system. Such a limited education, conversation with Reaves implies, ultimately produces foot soldiers to turn the minimum-wage gears of society, and real soldiers whose only means of obtaining further education lies in joining the military.

TheColonyThere is an inherent sadness to many of Reaves’s robots and their circumstances, but he tries to present them in a humorous manner. He hopes that viewers will recognize something of their own lives in these pieces and smile; they should laugh with, rather than at, the robots and their creator. Though the laughter may be somewhat ironic, Reaves believes humor is the best way to fight the monotony one could potentially succumb to.

Kevin doesn’t have a website up, but if anyone wants to contact him to commission a killer robot of their very own [definitely recommended–ed], he can be contacted at:

  1. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Brilliant ideas, exquisite craftmanship. I’d love to see him collaborate with Marina Bychkova (“The Enchanted Doll”):


    The jewelry collection is fascinating, as well—it’s unexpected; delicate, sleek pieces forged from industrial materials. Beautiful.

  2. D.Mitchell says:

    Clean insight of Kevin’s work, Jenn. His stuff is truly incredible! The magnitude and detail involved really get my gears turning.

  3. elijah greer says:

    Hey kevin im trying to get and art show going that focuses on killer robots want to join in, get me on face book emial me or calll me at 423557-9332

  4. Ali says:

    Very nice job, like it..

  5. Kevin Reaves says:

    I have the same name as you…

  6. […] Kevin Reaves’s Killer Robots Invade the Art World; Calamity Ensues …Aug 17, 2009 … Kevin Reaves’s small-scale automatons are motionless and lifeless, but speak eloquently about the condition of individuals in the modern … […]

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