High-tech altars

Artist uses computer-assisted machines to create mesmerizing pieces

Two of Johnny Dutro’s altars.

Two of Johnny Dutro’s altars.

Photo by Carey Wilson

Altars of the Elements—The Works of Johnny Dutro, opens Saturday, June 17, 3-6 p.m., free, all-ages.
Idea Fab Labs
603 Orange St.

Chico’s Idea Fab Labs has the capacity to host and produce a wide range of multimedia art. The 6,900-square-foot facility on Orange Street houses not only a large exhibit gallery, but also spaces with equipment such as computer-operated laser cutters and 3-D printers. There are scheduled workshops for crafting jewelry, designing textiles, leatherwork, screenprinting, LED lighting effects and audio production. It’s a place, in other words, that’s all about teaching and learning how to use the latest technology to facilitate the creation of truly modern art.

As an “incubator artist” at Idea Fab Labs, Johnny Dutro has had access to a private workshop in which to experiment and tinker with technology on pieces that, he told the CN&R, “I’ve designed, cut, painted, glued and hung” for the space’s newest exhibit, “Altars of the Elements.” The entire show took Dutro about 2 1/2 months of working 12-15 hours a day, he said.

“The title is reflective of several of the pieces, which in themselves are altars, with some being interactive, in that [one] can collaborate with the piece by placing meaningful things of their own on the shelf.”

Using wood, mirrored plexiglass, paint and in some cases programmed LED lighting effects, Dutro’s exhibit shares qualities of symmetry, colorfulness and multilayered textures. The framing shapes of the pieces are evocative of wings, mountains, leaves, branches and other organic forms.

“I got the inspiration for the content from my daily meditations in nature,” Dutro explained.

Before assembling and painting all the parts, Dutro fabricated them using the lab’s laser cutter and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, which required him to first program the designs into each machine. The former cut the materials to exact specifications using a laser; the latter is a sculpting device that translated Dutro’s designs into computer controls that guided the movement of the machine’s tools.

The combination of the artist’s technological expertise, meticulous attention to aesthetic detail and hand-crafted finishing touches resulted in striking pieces that include inlays of mirrored plexiglass refracting intricate mandala patterns of iridescent rainbow colors. They inspire contemplation of how technology can be harnessed to facilitate the physical creation of what, until now, existed only in the artist’s imagination.

The pieces will be for sale at the June 17 reception and range in price from $50 to $400. The event is a free, family-friendly affair that will include a refreshments stand with the bar’s sale of wine and beer benefiting the Museum of Northern California Art (Monca).

For those who can’t make it to the reception, but are interested in seeing Dutro’s exhibition, touring the Idea Fab Labs facility and learning more about the collective, there are open houses each Monday from 6 to 8 p.m.