Hampden artists create furniture from city's debris FOUND OBJETS

December 11, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

To the untrained eye, it's junk. Rusted bikes. Old bowling balls. Warped barn doors. Don't try convincing David Hess and David Klein of that, though. The two furniture makers comb the city in pick-up trucks rescuing such debris.

In their Hampden studios, they turn it into art.

Oak wainscoting from a church becomes a cabinet. Riggings from a conveyor are reworked into a four-poster bed. A piano harp lives again as a headboard.

"We're urban scavengers," Mr. Klein, 50, says simply.

"Yeah," adds Mr. Hess, 29, "we do a lot of alley cruising. Roland Park, Hampden, Canton, Highlandtown, Fells Point."

Whatever their method, it seems to work.

Between them, they have shown at dozens of galleries across the country, including some in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. And their pieces have appeared in tony publications like the New York Times Magazine, Metropolitan Home and House and Garden.

Now the two men have joined materials and methods, collaborating on found-object furniture for three East Coast shows, the latest of which is now at Galerie Francoise et ses freres in Green Spring Station.

Although they share a love of junkyards and work within blocks of each other, that's where the similarities end.

Mr. Hess works in metals; Mr. Klein in wood. Mr. Hess, 29, grew up in Brooklandville, playing water polo, writing art essays and coping with a condition that made his hair permanently fall out at 14.

Mr. Klein spent his youth at Edmondson High majoring in "football, girls and beer" and writing 500 times "I must not . . . "

With his gray ponytail, he's often mistaken for Boogie Weinglass. With his bald head, David Hess is confused with "Yul Brynner's son." ("I hear that about every day," he says, rolling his brown eyes. "Or people think I'm sick or a skinhead.")

Before becoming an artist, Mr. Klein tried other fields: He was a theatrical agent, a boutique owner, a matchbook-advertisement salesman and an actor. (He's appeared in John Waters' "Polyester," Steve Yeager's "On the Block" and "America's Most Wanted.")

L Since the 10th grade, Mr. Hess knew he wanted to pursue art.

They met through a friend two years ago and quickly developed a mutual respect.

Mr. Klein vividly recalls the first time he dropped by his future collaborator's studio. Mr. Hess was preparing for a political art show of weapon sculptures. Mr. Klein walked in and was surrounded by makeshift guns, daggers and clubs.

"He scared me to death," recalls Mr. Klein. "I thought, 'Where am I?'"

Although the two became friends, they never considered collaborating until approached by a designer for this year's BSO Show House.

Their first piece -- a bed made of a jeep hood, barn wood and copper cylinders -- got rave reviews, including a spread in Style magazine.

It also brought them a call from Mary Jo Gordon, owner of Galerie Francoise et ses freres in Green Spring Station, who asked the two to collaborate on a show.

"They complement each other," she says. "Hess' pieces are rough, Klein's refined. . . . I have a David Hess bed in my house made from two jeep grills and a guard rail. It has an outrageousness but a strong design, a courage and directness. The desk I have of David Klein's is very elegant. It's more tactile, and it's been beautifully finished until there's not a flaw.

"But the two share a common sensibility, an attitude of preserving things that were thrown away and heightening them to a more appreciated existence."

While many artists shun collaborations, the two agreed because they thought they could become more educated about their own -- and each other's -- art.

"We were both curious about pushing what we were doing," Mr. Hess says. "We saw it as a way to learn about our materials and our techniques. An exploration."

But like any good explorers, they ran aground occasionally.

"We learned you have to leave your ego at home on the days you collaborate," says Mr. Klein. "What it boils down to is what works. It doesn't matter whose idea it was. For me, the satisfaction was that there were so few times when I hated him."

Mr. Hess laughs and offers his thoughts on what he'd change about his associate.

"I'd like him to work a bit faster," he says. "There were times when I thought he was taking a long time. I didn't hang out then. I didn't want to be brought down to that level of contemplation and self-abuse."

Rather than sit and study a table corner, Mr. Hess works on five pieces at once, hopscotching from one to another when he hits snags.

Their grueling work schedules have kept both men from their private lives in recent months. Mr. Klein, who lives in Mayfield, has missed out on time with his wife Anita, also an artist. And Mr. Hess, who lives in Original Northwood, has had to juggle his work to be with his wife Sally, a psychiatric nurse, and the couple's nine-month-old daughter Sophie Rose.

But working together has enabled the two artists to fully understand that art really is a lot like life.

"It's like a marriage," Mr. Hess explains. "You don't end the relationship because he got lost or broke something. You disagree, then you make up and go on."

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