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Robot Artist Jordan-Alexander Thomas

Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: October, 2014, Page 24
Photos by Garrett Cook

Phoenix artist Jordan-Alexander Thomas builds wood robots that speak to one’s inner “geek”

As we round the corner toward 2015, some of us find ourselves asking: “Where are the teleporters, ray guns and other mind-blowing technologies we expected to have by now?”

Television shows like The Jetsons and Futurama paint a picture of a not-so-distant future filled with robots, flying cars and casual space travel. It was these futuristic programs that inspired local artist Jordan-Alexander Thomas to bring the “future” to present-day Phoenix in the form of his whimsical, mixed-media robot sculptures. “One day I was helping my mom clean out her garage, and I found some interesting knickknacks,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can make something out of this?’ And the idea of building robots blossomed.”

Thomas, also known as Space Boy among some of his peers, has shown his “bots” at a number of events, including local art shows, First Fridays in downtown Phoenix and Comi-Con. “It’s not ‘serious’ art like a Rembrandt,” Thomas says of his creations. “But I like that they are odd and interesting. These robots are different from what other people are producing.”

BORUS, the “strong man robot,” lifts weights among a smattering of robo-parts that may someday be used in another of the artist’s creations.
The artist adds that he has crafted more than 1,000 robots since he made the first one in 2006 as a gift for a friend. After requests began to flood in for more, Thomas established an online retail shop on etsy to meet demand. Recently though, he disbanded his online store in an effort to “keep things local.” He now has his work in several Valley shops including MADE Art Boutique and Practical Art, the latter being where the artist will debut his exhibit—Musée des Roboddites!—throughout the month of November.

From a “spare-parts” rendition of Darth Vader and a Marie Autonette, to a Day of the Dead-inspired series and plant-infused GrowBot line, Thomas’s collection of robots includes Steampunk-inspired pieces as well as a number of unique commissioned works. He admits that his favorite creation so far is King Aurum, a round-bellied, golden-hued robot that was quickly snatched up by a friend shortly after its completion.

Artistically inclined since childhood, Thomas credits his mother and great aunt, both artists in their own right, with influencing him to pursue a creative life path. In 2008, he began to work for Arizona Art Supply—a company that he says has served as another source of inspiration and insight when it comes to his craft.

Despite being told by a professor that he should not pursue art due to being color-blind, Thomas explains that this would be impossible for him as being creative has always been his “thing.” “Knowing that I can turn someone else’s trash into a little robot creature, well ... I get a kick out of that,” he shares.

To make a robot, Thomas begins by selecting a wood box that will serve as the body. Next, items are added to build the arms and legs—thread spools and chess pieces being among his favored choices. “Nearly all of my robots are functional with hidden storage compartments,” the artist continues. “I always coat them in black paint first, and then I use professional acrylic paint and a dry brush to give them a faux metal finish.

“Right now, I’m trying to step outside of my usual and am doing more gallery-style pieces and commission work,” he says. “I’ve sold and sent robots to Japan, Ireland and Australia. It has all been very exciting for a new artist sitting at home on his bedroom floor making robots.”

As for real “bots,” Thomas has a Roomba named Minnie. “It has become like a pet,” he says with a laugh. “Sometimes she locks herself in the bathroom and sometimes we have to pull her out from under the couch.”

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: This 13"H robot is named YOSH-E. “I try to give my robots a lot of personality,” Thomas notes. “The head is always the last thing I make because it conveys all of the bot’s character.” • ZINGER, ZORP and BAKER 2000. The bots are made from an assemblage of wood and metal pieces that have been hand-painted by artist Jordan-Alexander Thomas. “One of the hardest aspects of my work is finding parts,” he remarks. “I annoy my boyfriend by constantly scanning the ground for spare nuts, bolts or other tiny metal pieces and sticking them in my pockets while we are out.”

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