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Featured artist: Clockmaker Steve Hurst

on November 30, 2011

The walls of Steve Hurst’s loft are dotted with clocks, but only one actually works, a handmade piece in the shape of the sun that ticks with a steady beat.

Hurst is always running late and never wears a wristwatch. Time would not mean a lot to him, except that it’s his business.

Hurst has created handmade clocks since the 1990s. His pieces have sold nationwide and can be seen in the Point Richmond Art Collective and restaurants around the area, including El Sol.

His apartment and collection space just next-door to the Hotel Mac has an artist’s feel of organized clutter. Family photos smile down from shelves and African kente cloth is draped from ledges. His furniture ranges from an old leather chair to a hot pink, geometric seat. Where there aren’t clocks on the wall, Hurst has hung his oil paintings, sketches and photographs.

The workroom in the back is littered with unfinished clocks with blank faces, a hand painted cymbal, hand tools and piles of papers.

“If you’d come five minutes later, I would have cleaned everything up,” he joked. “This pencil would be off of the floor, everything would be cleaner.”

Hurst has a big smile and a personality to match. The speed of his voice quickens when he tells newcomers about his art. As he wraps up conversation about one part of his life or a particular clock, his eyes will brighten because he just remembered that he has something else to say, something more to share.

Hurst’s first clock was made out of an old bookend and, since then, he has continued to utilize recycled materials in his art. His clocks are constructed out of everything from calculators and puzzle pieces to old wood and pistachio shells.

He has ceiling-high cabinets filled to the brim with random knick-knacks waiting to adorn his art.

Locals bring Hurst materials for his projects (“Oh, God, do they bring me stuff,” he said) — everything from jewelry to shards of broken vases, often left outside the gate to his loft in a strange homage.

In his nearly 60 years, Hurst has been a saxophonist, illustrator, photographer and painter, among other things. He once ran a graphic design business that he said boomed in the 1980s when companies had money to burn. But after a while he was pigeonholed into doing cheap or free work for nonprofits.

In June 2010, he said, everything “came to an abrupt halt.” His business was not doing well and he decided to close down.

“I’m broker than I’ve been, but I’m happier than I’ve been in 10 years,” he said.

Hurst is open about what he considers to be his failures, shortcomings and quirks. He talked about everything from losing an opportunity to work with a particular glassmaker to fights he had with difficult clients on commissioned projects.

“Where I am right now is not where I foresaw myself being at this point in my life,” he said. “But I have to reflect on my past.”

Things have changed for Hurst in the past year. And so has his art.

“Before my graphic design business went under, everything was somber and done in earth tones,” he said.

Hurst mentored a young man named Jovi, who ended up becoming a dear friend and changed Hurst’s attitude about art.

“Jovi said he wanted to design clocks to make people happy,” Hurst said.

His bestselling clock is called Jovi’s Jewel. Hurst and his friend collaborated on the piece, which incorporates textured mahogany on the back and green glass hour markers on the front. The base is made from cut and chiseled wood with a textured granite finish, the second layer consists of textured and painted wood, and the final two layers are a hammered aluminum dish and a saucer. They have sold seven different iterations of that clock.

Hurst describes his newer pieces as playful and whimsical.

He points to his most recent clock, which is called Tangerine Dream, although he thinks he may change the name to Tangerine Landscape.

The clock face looks like a fiery orange moon rising over a turquoise horizon. One of the hands has a sliver of a crescent moon on the end and Hurst stuck an earring into part of the face where the paint wouldn’t work, citing it as a fortuitous accident.

“My clocks are finally starting to tell stories,” he said.

And Hurst is ready to start telling stories of his own, too. He plans to write a book about his family and growing up in the projects of Chicago. Some will be about his relationship with his now-deceased mother, who he describes as a “ranting, raving mess.” But Hurst is not looking to write a tragedy. Rather, he says he’s reflecting on his family with a sense of humor.

“Indeed, my mother was abusive,” he said. “But there was another side of her that was loving.”

Hurst is also Oprah Winfrey’s first cousin. Because of problems between his parents, he didn’t meet Winfrey until he was much older and says he has seen her only three or four times. He sent her one of his clocks as a gift.

Although he has spent his entire life creating art, Hurst still holds onto landmark pieces. He displays things like his first oil painting, a still life of a burgundy convertible, in his apartment.

He flicked on a lamp that he made out of an old projector when he was just 13. It looks like a little black box with plastic jewels on top. Hurst said that it projects brilliant colors on the wall at night. He still looks at the little lamp with pride, even though he made it nearly 50 years ago.

Hurst, who helped organize the Point Richmond Summer Concert series and the Point Richmond Art Walk, encourages people around him to understand the important of artists.

“Who designed those designer glasses?” he said he asked a friend once. “Who designed the SUV you’re driving? Who designed this building? Who makes the art that gets you to go out to the store?”

His clocks range from around $150 for his handmade wall clocks to $5,000 for a custom clock with LED lights. Hurst also sells hand-painted boxes between $20-40 for those on a tighter budget.

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