Seth Lorenz slices a piece of blond China birch with a table saw for a custom bed he’s working on outside his art studio garage in Oak Cliff. It’s for a local musician’s work room — most of which he’s also building on his own. The bed measures roughly 4 by 7 feet and is 1 foot high. The largest piece, a supporting board for the mattress, weighs about 70 pounds alone.
As he finishes cutting the piece, an abrasive buzzing noise fills the air, accompanied by a smell of fine saw dust, a scent he’s well acquainted with. It’s that smell, look and the feel that he enjoys most about working with wood.
“There’s something awesome about creating with this organic material and making something that makes people happy and turns out beautiful,” says Lorenz.
Lorenz not only has to build the bed, but paint it, finish and deliver it as well. And it has to be the perfect size for a specific part of the room. If it’s not, he has to take it apart and start again. That’s all part of his daily work as a modern carpenter — a rare breed in 2016.
“I like fine carpentry because of that element of perfection,” he says.
Lorenz is a craftsman of two realms. For work, he’s an independent contractor, specializing in making furniture: beds, shelves, dressers, cabinets and the like. For his art practice, he’s a wizard of woodcraft, molding the same material he uses to build furniture to create bizarre sculptures that contrast his physical world with a more surrealist one. He’s a master of bringing to life those same objects he builds for practical use. It's the duality that makes his art distinct.
From early adolescence, Lorenz learned to work with raw materials and his skills developed into a passion over time. From age 13, he worked on construction projects, starting with metal stud framing and dry wall and then he moved slowly into doing more woodwork. His familiarity with raw materials proved useful when he went to art school.
He began experimenting with making shelves and while his early work was still rough, his craft really got traction when a client asked him to build the interior of a house in Sulphur Springs completely from scratch. He also builds materials for other artists. Today his clientele include recognized Dallas artists Chuck & George, Michael Mazurek and Jesse Barnett, to name a few. But while it’s the contract work that pays the bills, it’s the art that gives his work emotional value.
“I’m really interested in objects within a domestic environment,” says Lorenz. “You know, these objects that we carry in our lives that accommodate our home become holders of memory in the things that surround, whatever those memories are, be they good or bad.”
In a series of sculptures titled Subconscious Content, Lorenz explores this idea by building furniture with a sort of magical geometry.
One sculpture, titled "Garbage Head," is a dark wooden misshapen dresser slumped against a wall. The top drawer opens out of the slump and is filled with slips of paper on which Lorenz documented his thoughts for a month. Some thoughts are good, some are bad and some reveal things he's never told anyone before. The notes are stuck inside the drawer and can’t be taken out. He says this reflects the condition of his mind.
“It’s a play between suppression and vulnerability,” he says. “It’s a way of talking about insecurity and a way that one can view themselves.”
Another, called "Hold On," is a sculpture of toy blocks stacked on top of each other to spell the piece’s title at different angles. While the message appears self-explanatory, Lorenz says it refers to his development in early childhood.
“I’d learned to be emotionally detached and unable to be empathetic,” he says. “So those were like my initial building blocks.”
The blocks are an exhortation to hold on to loved ones, says Lorenz, even if it can be hard to do.
“What does that [love] look like? And what does that take? How can I rearrange these fundamental blocks of my personality to make sure that I can hold on?” he asks.
As a father of two daughters, Lorenz says his family plays a role in his art.
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“I feel like my relationship with my daughters is kind of an art practice in a way, because my art practice is built around growth and investigation of the self,” he says. “How I raise them is in stark [contrast] to the way that I was brought up.”
Lorenz said it is building things with his hands that has kept his mind steady and away from his troubles. He says both his art and his contract work are therapeutic.
“It’s sort of like a meditation because I don’t worry about anything else in my life when I’m working. I just kind of become this machine,” he says. “I’m always thinking three or four steps ahead of myself.”
Lorenz is working on a series of mixed media pieces for an upcoming gallery show at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 at 500X, 500 Exposition Ave. To see more of his work, go to sethlorenz.com.