Jeremy Mayer Turns Typewriters Into Art
When artist Jeremy Mayer looks at a typewriter, he sees more than keys, space bars and ribbons. “There are some very sexy parts
of human anatomy that draw you to the machine,” Mayer says of the metal and plastic parts he repurposes as thighs, breasts or cheeks in his work.
Using old typewriter parts, Oakland resident Mayer, 38, recently completed Nude IV Delilah,
a life-sized human figure named after his girlfriend who posed for the piece (a photo of the two Delilahs seated side-by-side can be found on Mayer’s website, www.jeremymayer.com, and below). Delilah leans back on one arm while resting the other on her bended knee. Her legs spread wide, she appears unselfconscious and relaxed despite the exposed nature of her pose. Her face shows the hint of a smile. Printed between her breasts are the words “Smith – Corona.”
In his work, Mayer tries to only use parts indigenous to the typewriter, which means no soldering, welding or gluing of pieces. “I decided that I didn’t want to do any of those things because everything was already available,” he says. “It’s not a solid, stiff sculpture that’s welded together. It’s
assembled. It’s pose-able,” he explains. “You can move the arms. You can turn the head. You can move the legs. They’re jointed.” Despite this agility, the pieces are fragile and must be handled with care.
Pieces like Delilah, which sell for $20,000, generally take Mayer about a year to assemble. Mayer completes his work in the basement of the house where he lives, near Rockridge and Temescal. Littered with dozens of typewriters in various states of disassembly, his studio consists of shelves and bins filled with parts. Originally from Minnesota, Mayer moved to the Bay Area from Lake Tahoe about a year ago, and to Oakland this winter. “I wanted to be here
to be a part of the arts scene here and not do it remotely,” he says of his reasons for leaving Tahoe. His typewriter sculptures don’t cover the bills yet, so Mayer supplements his income with myriad odd jobs, including caretaking, graphic design, window washing and stain glass restoration. In Tahoe, he once worked as a snowcat mechanic. “Whatever I can do to make some dough,” he says.
Part of the challenge of creating large-scale figures is finding multiple typewriters of the same brand and model to make symmetrical sides of a human. “Sometimes I need four or six of the same machine,” he says. Mayer finds his typewriters at flea markets and thrift stores and on Internet sites like www.freecycle.org as well as through friends. “A lot of people know that I’m looking for them,” he says. Once, a woman from Massachusetts shipped him a typewriter after seeing his work. He later mailed her photos of the finished piece, indicating which parts he
used from her donation.
Yet, not any typewriter model will do. Mayer prefers purely mechanical typewriters — manufactured before companies started using word processing screens and circuit boards. “I use those sometimes but it’s
not really worth the work to tear it apart because there’s not much that I can use,”
he says. In addition to Smith Coronas, Mayer also looks for Underwoods and Royals. His favorite model is the Royal Safari. “It’s sort of bounded with a plastic front and rounded sides. It’s very sleek and kind of sensual looking,” he says, adding, “It’s good for arms.”
For a year, Mayer studied engineering and material science at the University of Nevada, Reno, but never took formal art classes — aside from a sixth-grade watercolor class. Yet art has been part of his life since an early age. “I’ve been selling drawings and paintings in galleries since I was 14.” He didn’t start working with typewriters until 1994. At the time, his former mother-in-law asked him to take her old typewriter to a thrift store. “I decided to take it apart instead,” he says. With the pieces he says he made a “crude, little goofy dog,” which failed to excite anyone beside himself. “They all kind of looked at it and went, ‘oh,’ ” he says.
After that, Mayer started creating insects, cats (dead and alive), busts and, of course, full-sized human figures out of the parts. Sometimes Mayer thinks of an idea for a project first, then searches for the pieces to make it. Other times, the typewriters themselves provide the source of inspiration. “I kind of saw it lying there in the parts on the table and decided to make that one happen,” he says in reference to a little deer. The piece, constructed with a number of springs, looks ready to bound off its metal legs. Mayer sells his smaller pieces at a lower price point, starting at around $2,500.
So far, practice is paying off. “It’s taken a long time to get here,” Mayer says of the thousands of hours he’s spent working in
the medium. “I’m finally getting to a point where I feel like I’m not just creating a lumpy mass of typewriter parts stuck together, but I’m actually creating pleasing lines and forms.” With time, he has become very adept at taking typewriters apart. “I can get right to the middle if I have to,” he says. Mayer, who has shoulder-length hair and wears dark-rimmed Ray-Ban eyeglasses, refers to himself as a guy interested in “all things geek.” Though he finds himself inspired by the sci-fi aesthetic, he does not want his pieces to look robotic. Like a sculptor who works with marble or wood, he hopes people look past the elements of construction to see the intended form. “It’s maddening,” he says of the process. “It’s pretty engaging — pretty fun.”