Meeting the Offcyclers: Interview with Rodney Allen Trice

An eclectic artist, a master upcycler or a futuristic designer. Rodney Allen Trice fits into many different categories. His inspiring personality has led him to be one of the most prominent Upcycling Artists in the scene nowadays. An invited Art Basel artist, Rodney Allen Trice receives Offcyclers in his Brooklyn studio. The birthplace of his functional upcycled art. 

Can you tell us your story ? How did it you start making Upcycled art and products?

Well, long long ago, after having moved to NYC and finally saved enough money for furniture, I excitedly raced to the neighborhood in Manhattan called Soho. At that time in the late 80’s it was mostly galleries, artist focused stores and vintage mid-century furniture shops. It wasn’t until then that I discovered the price, even then, of an original Eames wooden chair or their lounge or a bookshelf. I ended up returning home, empty handed. But having walked past some amazing finds in the trash on walks around the city in the following weeks, I figured out what I had to do to make my apartment as fantastic and special as this city I had come to that I was so deeply in love with. It started with a coffee table made from a red bathroom stall door, glass scrap I found in the trash and copper pipe and valves. And the rest just grew from that.

rodney allen trice, upcycled furniture

Can you explain us a bit what your production process looks like?

My process varies. I do custom work so sometimes it is someone approaching me with a need (table for instance) and something they like (old sewing machines) and I get to work bridging the two separate thoughts until they become one unified idea.

But most of the time I just watch everything around me. Keep myself mentally limber and as clear minded as possible and just watch the world around me. Flea markets and junk collectors and scrap yards have become favorite haunts now. I need to curate more and going to these kind of things helps with that. As I watch, there is almost always an immediate vision I see. THAT THING! Right there! It’s a chandelier! OMG, this is a stool. It just hits. It feels like the new thing.

Other times I just love an object. It’s no longer useful but looks charming and has character and I know I could do something with it. So it sits on my shelves and I watch it. Eventually I find what made me feel excited by it in the first place and then it tells me what it wants to be next.

Now, I am moving into more art pieces that are a response to the future and having to turn things into machines to help us survive then. There is a whole narrative to it and an idea that our way of life comes to a screeching halt and we have to begin again in the new planet earth. It’s exciting to be developing a completely art pieces and show.

What are the challenges that you face when creating your upcycled art and products?

The challenges I face are almost completely in finding my market and the right places to show and sell. I am always having to balance the line and decide between using the best parts and additional materials and watch the price of my item escalate or use lesser parts & additional materials to keep the price lower. But I almost always decide on the better quality and thus prices grow.

And my ideas grow. I am now beginning to hustle the support to build an entire house from retired aircraft. Being able to support the ideas in my head when the cost of doing this is so high and growing is seriously challenging too.

rodney allen trice, upcycled furniture

On the hands of who would you like your Upcycled art and products to end up?

Anyone who loves an item and understands it. Someone who will love it for a long time.

rodney allen trice, upcycled furniture

What is the future of your Upcycled Art? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m in a current state of reinvention. As many of us American artists are trying to carve out income in a rough economy, I spent a couple years making lesser items and easier, cheaper items and testing markets all over the place to see how it did. We did sell everything designated for these places but not at a rate that was enough to support anything but itself so I have stopped all that. I hate the whole process of reducing the cost and finding that “marketable” price for items that come from my heart. So I no longer am looking to do lesser items and now, instead, have chosen to move into more of an artistic direction.

Will there still be chandeliers? Will I ever make another table or stool? Or will I decide to create anything that even resembles furniture and lighting again? hmmm. well… I do think I probably will. Most likely… yes.

My current project is to develop things for life in the future when the american economy has collapsed and brought down other nations economies with it. Its a future where we have to build air purification machines from things we can find and water systems and maybe even what we wear has changed to protect us and help us forage through the detritus of the past to the reformation of humanity in the future. A future where even the most stylish and elite will have to exist this way due to resource shortages. In this future the fallacy of the American dream has mutated rather than die and the mix of Mad Max and Mary Tyler Moore is both funny and disturbing at once. This is what I am processing right now. Things for life and home in a fallen future.

OH, and YES to chandeliers and lighting. Except I have decided to think of them in terms of Jewelry for your home. I don’t know if it is so much a chandelier anymore as much as it may become a beautiful illuminating pendant that certainly can hang above your dining table. It’s been time to rethink the core of what my work becomes. It’s a very exciting time.

Founder of Offcyclers + Overall Sustainable Design geek. When Diego isn't scouting for the most incredible Sustainable Design & Art, he is probably trotting the globe, photographing or filming any story he thinks needs to be told.

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