Perfecting Nature

John Perilloux is a self-described metal artist and “…perfectionist. I don’t want to stamp my name on something unless I feel it’s an excellent representation of my style and attention to detail,” he explains. This detailed approach is evident in his forged iron furniture and sculpture, which is usually organic in form. As a master of forging—heating metal in a forge at around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, then using tools such as a hammer and anvil to shape the metal—Perilloux is unusual in that he works with both modern and antique tools.

Within his 3,000-square-foot metal studio in Robert—around 50 miles north and slightly west of New Orleans—Perilloux has surrounded himself with his inspiration: the woods overlooking Chappapeela Creek. “I believe that nature is the first architect, engineer and artist,” he says. “The architect in me enjoys designing furniture and sculpture in ways that represent nature. The engineer sees to it that the furniture is built properly. The artist ensures that the elements are aesthetically pleasing and balanced.”

He uses these skills to create “pretty much anything”—sculpture, furniture, a building or a house—using materials from wood to metal. “There is something enjoyable about taking a very inorganic, straight, cold steel bar, heating it up and pounding it into a shape that’s organic with beautiful lines and curves, “ he says.
If you walk into Perilloux’s studio, you’ll rarely see him creating a detailed drawing of each idea, instead you’ll usually find him using chalk to rough sketch in full scale on a 4-foot-by-8-foot metal table. What better why to decide what size and length steel stock to start from?

Perilloux spends an average of one week on something such as a coffee table or console table, his most popular and a perennial favorite for collectors. However, he admits that the time spent is hard to determine, because though he spends six to 10 hours each day working with metal, and he doesn’t necessarily work one piece from start to finish. “Sometimes I work on several pieces at one time. Sometimes I work for weeks on one piece,” Perilloux says. “I like to change things up a bit. It’s easy to get bored with a ritual.”

Once the size and length of the steel stock have been chosen, he begins forging the elements of the piece. He heats, hammers, bends, beats and morphs the individual pieces of metal—for instance, the legs of a coffee table—of the main structure. Then he welds those pieces together to create the basic form. Those smaller parts that serve a decorative, not functional, form are then forged and welded onto the structure. Most of his furniture pieces are made up of 100 or more of these smaller pieces. Once Perilloux is satisfied with the piece’s overall construction, he begins a lengthy process of grinding and sanding each weld so that, “the joinery of each element is a mystery to the untrained eye. This is important to me,” he says, “because smooth joints are one of the reasons my creations have a smooth flow about them.” In Perilloux’s opinion, nothing is more abrupt on metal sculpture or furniture than a visible weld. This step is also Perilloux’s least favorite. “Many people tell me to hire someone to do this work or sub it out, but I don’t. I need to know that it’s done correctly and the only way to ensure that is to do it myself,” he says. As a final step, Perilloux sandblasts the entire surface, adds a patina and seals it with a clear, urethane finish.

Perilloux started as an artist in 1990 when a friend took him to a meeting of the Louisiana Metalsmiths Association. He was a cyclist at the time and was curious about changes he could make to a bike’s frame to enhance it’s performance. This lead to him building a forge and creating his first console table, which he sold though a friend’s store. After his second table sold, he decided to quit everything else and pursue his art full time.

At the moment, Perilloux is completing a custom order of a tree-shaped base for a kitchen countertop and matching barstools. He’s also developing a new line that’s organic, but “different from his current line of branches and leaves. I am forging large, heavy elements … assembled together using traditional joinery such as bands and rivets.” Perilloux likes a little variety because it helps him stay inspired,
“by changing things up a bit,” he says.

And, as long as he keeps “changing things up,” his furniture will continue to please his collectors and inspire new customers.

John Perilloux, (985) 542-4346, www.johnperilloux.com

Categories: Masters of their Craft

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