Some days artist Baron Margo drives the three-wheeled rocket car he constructed from a motorcycle engine and airplane parts. On other occasions, he might be tooling around in his custom-shortened, topless gray 1968 Volkswagen coupe. For this metal-machine visionary, it's all in a day's work.
For more than 20 years, Margo's palette has been the junk heaps and shipyards he scours for scrap metal and machine parts that are reborn as fantastical found-object sculptures. On display in Santa Monica through Nov. 10 at the Gallery of Functional Art, the self-taught artist's robots, rockets, clocks and other fabrications inhabit a universe in which the building blocks of life are copper, aluminum, brass and stainless steel.
There is the "Universal Pilot" in a plane made from a baby buggy base and wings from real airplane wingtips. "He has a backpack and is equipped to fly all over the world," says Margo. Or the "Rocket Lamp," composed of an old canister vacuum cleaner base and an aluminum cylinder body. There are boats, submarines and race cars that light up. Margo's "Big Red Entertainment Center" does hold a TV, CD and cassette player, but with the door closed it's a robot made from an old projector arc light and other junk finds. "Atomic Woman" towers over the other pieces with feet made of street light bases, fingers of small gas lines and a painted manikin head "robotized" with wires.
By junior high school during the mid '50s, Margo was building customized motorbikes, including the "Wizard," which he entered in the 1955 Motorama car show. "I built it in my bedroom. I tore it apart, had it all chromed," he says. "I'm not really a drawing artist, but more of a doer." By high school he had built several cars. After graduation, he had an old junk store on Fairfax Avenue that he considered his "college." There he began fabricating see-through plexiglass radios and other creations. "I took a stand-up barber pole and put a fish tank with real fish in it on top. I would build things and put them in the store and sell them," says Margo. He haunted junkyards, where a single piece often inspired an elaborate construction. "If I can't find the parts I need, I have them cast at a foundry, and I've learned to sand-cast myself."
A now-vanished store on Main Street in Santa Monica displayed pieces by Margo for about 15 years, and his work began to sell. About 20 years ago, "I made a great big 7-foot robot and sold it for a lot of money. I reinvested it by making more pieces," says Margo, who works from his Silver Lake home.
Five of the eight large-scale robots Margot has constructed have sold, but he'd be welding and sanding either way. "What I get from my work is the reaction when people see it. My goal is to draw an emotion. Recognition is good, but the main thing is to have enough money to keep building and creating. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Gallery of Functional Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., E-3, Santa Monica; (310) 829-6990.