Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles Please enjoy this guest article written by artist and clockmaster Eric Freitas.

On August 4, 2014, I received an email from a client named Mark Jungers, who was interested in commissioning me to create a large clockwork installation. I had been making mechanical clocks for about a decade, but nothing of the size and complexity that he was requesting. Jungers is a wine aficionado, and this mechanical sculpture was to be the centerpiece for a wine cellar that he was constructing in his Milwaukee home. I’d always wanted to work on a more architectural scale, so when he found me online, and emailed me with his proposal, I jumped at the opportunity. After thorough planning, concept sketches, and a down payment, I began building “The Jungers Commission.”

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

I graduated from Center for Creative Studies in 1999, where I was trained in design, painting, and sculpture. I made the rather drastic switch to clockmaking because of an idea that I couldn’t turn away from. Clockmakers are hard to come by in the Detroit area, so I had to learn the craft on my own. My father was an automotive-engineer, and his knowledge was invaluable when it came time to find the necessary tooling and setup to fabricate clock parts. With a couple of old machines discarded from the auto industry, and a few used horology books, I set out to make my first clock. After cutting my first gear from scratch, I was hooked, and haven’t stopped since.

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Even in my first mechanical clock, I was exploring which rules could be broken, and which ones I had to adhere to. It was necessary to bend the rules of the clock-making world in order to achieve the aesthetic I was aiming for in my artistic practice. While machines and nature are often thought of as opposites, rather than force a contrast between the two in my work, I show how they are very much the same. Of course, this organic approach plays into our concept of time itself. The impression of growth and also of wear and tear all contribute to a sense of time passing. Ticking, moving gears also have a sense of weight and deliberation, which connect the viewer to the flow of time much more than digital screens, flipping instantaneously. The cycles of death and rebirth are echoed in the metaphor of clockwork gears.

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

With “The Jungers Commission,” I was excited to bring this organic direction to a bigger stage, and also dive into some new mechanical challenges. Since the client and I were planning for a piece that you could walk around, and view from every angle, some visual doors were opened. We arrived at a four-sided design, in which two of the sides would have all of the dials, freeing up the other two sides for an open view of the mechanism. In order to fulfill one of the client's requests, I also learned how to make a moonphase dial and a dial indicating the day of the week. Everything on this piece is completely handmade and fabricated without the aid of CNC equipment. A total of 5,080 separately machined parts were needed to create this free-standing, seven-and-a-half-foot-tall skeleton-clock.

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Making the one-foot gears for this piece was a bit labor intensive, but I’ve always really loved this part of the process. The teeth were cut one by one on a lathe, the strangely shaped organic spokes were fretted out with a handheld piercing saw, and then they were slowly sculpted to their final three-dimensional form with a rotary grinding tool (kind of a larger version of what dentists use). They’re visually asymmetrical, but they still need to be perfectly balanced for the clock to function, so at the finish line, I put the gear on bearings, and shave away weight until it spins without bias. Another feature is the hand-made chain that holds the 100-pound power source for the clock. It’s eight feet long, spinal in appearance, and each of the one-inch links is completely different. The feature that gives the clock a real story, beyond the visual and technical, is the dials. While Mark lives in Milwaukee, his wife lives in Los Angeles, and we wanted to do something that tied the two time zones together. His piece features linked pairs of dials, each showing the time from both time zones.

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Mr. Jungers’s piece is the end product of a year-and-a-half of all-encompassing obsessive effort - 2,421 hours, to be exact. Large-scale work is quite a journey for both the artist and the buyer. I couldn’t have asked for a better client for my first big piece. Throughout the collaboration and construction, we became very good friends, which made the whole experience that much better for both of us. Custom work of that size is going to be very personal for both parties involved, and it’s a long road, so it’s great when it can be more than just a business transaction.

Eric Freitas Discusses His Avant-Garde Custom Clock Creations Feature Articles

Now that “The Jungers Commission” is successfully installed in its new home, my humble clockmaking workshop is open for business again. I’ve been spending a lot of time drawing and planning for the work to come, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been kept busy with new commissions. There are a lot of ideas and designs, and all I really want is for them to exist. With the style of my work, there is no getting around making things by hand, so I’m limited to finishing three to five wall-hung pieces per year. Each mechanical work is one of a kind, personal, and not just clockwork, but artwork.

Freitas’ work has hung in many galleries across the globe, including the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany; the Museum of the History of Science in the heart of Oxford, England; and the AFA gallery in SoHo, New York. Follow the progress of his latest at ericfreitas.com

  • Very cool work. I love the eroded/decomposed sort of look. Like jazz music, what is interesting is not what is there but the “notes” that are missing (as your mind fills in the missing spaces). Somewhere between steam punk and H.R.Giger with a retro yet organic look. Yet it has a style all its own – bravo Eric.

    • Boogur T. Wang

      Yes, very elusive.
      Somewhere between Miles & Coltrane to continue the metaphor/analogy(?).

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Yup, its got a very distinctive look. Take one old clock on to the roof of a building and throw it over the edge..Weird that he wanted it squashed into his wine cellar.

  • droo

    Really impressive Some will see steampunk, I See Jules Verne universe, a clock that should be in the center of captain Nemo’s Submarine.

  • MEddie90

    I’m glad to see clocks get more of a mention on this site, in a world of wrist watches its easy to forget pocket watches and clocks which can be just as horologocally interesting. As for these examples I live the style (though not to my personal taste) and they are well thought out. Nice to see a young maker who is self taught taking on complications he may not be used to. I’d love a more in depth article on the Jungers.

    • Mark Jungers

      I’m sure Eric would love to talk more about it and share some of the challenges and his favorite parts. I’d also be happy to talk further about the process. Something else that is interesting is the volume of drawings that went into the piece (I have a box of them from Eric). If you have not seen it yet, there is a video on Eric’s web page showing him taking a piece of metal and turning it into the largest gear on the clock – the video is not 67 hours long but that is how long the process of making that single gear too. Its quite amazing to watch. Much of the clock unfolded for me over Eric’s blog (which he asked if he could do) and I loved that part of the experience.

  • Michael Webster

    Very talented work. Even if the style isn’t your taste, you cannot deny the talent, creativity, and craftsmanship that goes into his work. And from Detroit too! Thanks for posting about clocks. A nice change and reminder of where our lovely wristwatches came from.

    • Shinytoys

      indeed…the masterful clocks came first !!!

  • iamcalledryan

    Crazy stuff. A really unique and impressive look. As a horology fan first I would want to see more finishing on the movement than superfluity in the overall aesthetic, but I get that these are sculptures that tell the time rather than clocks as such, and to that extent they are great.

    • Mark Jungers

      In person, the finishing is quite extraordinary – its not finished in the same way as a Journe is but, to quote FPJ, “finishing is purely aesthetic” – and Eric’s finishing is a different but equally time consuming level of finish.

      • iamcalledryan

        You are quite right. I guess the more traditional finishing and use of materials is designed to showcase the components of the movement, as well as to gain maximum efficiency, whereas the movement here comes second to a more artistic endeavour. The effect that Eric’s finishing brings to these peices is extraordinary, and something that I have only seen in the graphic animated sphere!

        • Mark Jungers

          And he’s getting better and better (by his own admission). Its part of what makes him/this amazing is that as a young talent who can already make something like what he made for me and has decades more time to advance his art and craft. I’m glad to be along for the ride.

  • mrw55

    14/17 is my favorite.

  • The designs remind me of Ghost In The Shell Innocence. Stunning work.

    • Eric Freitas

      Thank you! Flattered to be compared to that movie – it’s very beautiful.

  • cg

    Ok so what was the final cost installed? Do you have a mill or did you out source all the machining work? Something of this size done by an individual is quite impressive. What are your average measurement tolerances when you scale up to this size….

    • Eric Freitas

      Thank you! I have a used mill, and a couple of lathes that I machine everything on. For clockwork this large, I may not need to be within .002, but I still am out of habit. It is indeed very time consuming to take this on alone, but I love it.

  • Marius

    I didn’t know that Matt LeBlanc was making clocks.

  • Shinytoys

    Eric Freitas has been a powerful force for years when it comes to mastering the art and implamentation of magnificent horilogical artwork. I have been lucky enough to see some of his pieces in the flesh and they are breath taking and captivating. One might find themselves staring at a particular design for hours. He is truly a “one off” wonder. The sad part is I can’t grant him access to my home or I’d face a cash crisis of the likes I’ve never seen before. Bank accounts would empty, the sky’s would darken, and I’d be broke. Rock on Eric !!

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Sorry, i was a dick and would like to retract my last comment ( it was very early and am never good in the mornings ) ” The cycles of death and rebirth are echoed in the metaphor of clockwork gears.” really resonated with me. On reflection they really are quite unique and your love of the whole process just resonates off the page. Mechanical number 3. I know the old saying , if you have to ask , you cant afford it ( and at the risk of sounding vulgar) , how much would one be looking at charging for such a piece ? . I wish you continued success.

    • Shinytoys

      imagine what he could do with a set of bagpipes and some golf clubs, the sky’s the limit 🙂

  • Rollin Crittendon

    These have a very cool look, they remind me of what Tim Burton might be into.
    Some of the things he can do with gears in the larger-scale is pretty cool too, the sculptural derivations.

    Check out his website if you want one of his pieces. He has some castings that are quartz-powered for noncommissioned purchases.

    The drawing of one of the pieces is pretty neat too.

  • Mark Jungers

    Let me start by saying what an amazing process it was working with Eric on our clock. I was lucky to find him and the finished piece is truly extraordinary and exceeded all of my expectations. I know how fortunate I am to have it. People need to know about Eric and his talents and I have no plans to stop shouting about it from the roof top at every opportunity.

    As for a couple of the comments I’d love to provide my perspective as the patron… On its location – yes, it is a bit of a shame that it is tucked away in a wine cellar in Milwaukee (if anyone wants to see it, send me a note) but the room it is in is actually perfect for it for a couple of reasons: 1) the room is built around the clock – lighting, finishes, colors, complementary art (three custom fixtures by our friend Art Donovon (https://donovandesign.artspan.com/thumbnail_list.php?mgd_id=181565#.V0Jy0WNX_8s); 2) the room is not as cramped as the pictures suggest; 3) having the clock in the intimate space of the wine room allows me and guests to really feel the clock – it feels organic and delicate and alive up close (the first time I saw it was in a large gallery space and I like the intimate space better).

    I could go on and on but will end (for now) by saying that I can’t wait for Eric to return in September with the smaller accompanying piece!

    • Shinytoys

      dig it !!

    • Boogur T. Wang

      Great praise from a satisfied Patron.

    • egznyc

      Wow – boy has fortune shined upon you! While most of us just don’t have the means to commission such a project as this, you clearly have an eye for outstanding talent and artistry. You are not only getting a fantastic one-of-a-kind functional work of art, but you are also doing the clock and art community a great service. Sure, I’d love to be able to collaborate with an artist-clockmaker, as you did, but even learning about that process “second-hand” is fascinating. One thing that’s not discussed is the sounds that can be heard from the clock – I’m guessing in the cellar it’s possible to hear it ticking away quite nicely.

      • Mark Jungers

        Thanks – yes, I’m a pretty lucky dude (and try hard not for forget that). You are right, the clock makes a wonderfully soothing ticking sound and I find myself listening to it more than turning the music on. Not sure how to post the sound but I’ll try. Another great sound and tactile experience is winding the piece – Eric made a substantial crank that is necessary to crank up the 100lb weight – it takes muscle to click click click it to the top. One thought/scene that winding the clock always brings up is when Rea is scavanging inside of the abandoned Star Destroyer: http://i0.wp.com/bitcast-a-sm.bitgravity.com/slashfilm/wp/wp-content/images/ZZ2F5BE5F5-700×287.jpg?zoom=2&resize=700%2C287 – the aged metal, the shadows, the sparkles. I just love my clock.

  • egznyc

    Thanks for sharing this experience and your process, Eric! I am glad to know that there’s someone like you in the world, who makes such beautiful clocks, completely unique in appearance and in fact! The amount of talent and dedication on display here is staggering. I must salute your efforts.