Bones of steel

DOWNEY - Cristian Castro was taking a stroll in Downtown Downey last December when Stay Gallery caught his eye.

Curious, Castro stepped inside and discovered the budding arts and cultural center that was barely two months old at the time. He was fascinated.

Little did Castro know that 10 months later, his own one-of-a-kind robotic creations would headline Stay Gallery's one-year anniversary, taking place next week.

Castro, 42, is a self-taught industrial designer at Ebus, a Downey-based firm that takes old transit buses and retrofits them into all-electric, hybrid and fuel cell models. As a child growing up in Argentina, Castro dissected and dismantled all toys and machines he could get his hands on to see how they worked.

Now an adult, Castro's playground is his workshop, where he assembles his prized robots, pieced together with junkyard parts and trinkets before they are sandblasted and painted to a high gloss.

Castro is constantly combing through yard sales, swap meets, airplane graveyards and junk yards to find pieces for his sculptures. There is no blueprint for his work and Castro allows his imagination to run wild during construction of a robot.

"Only about 30 percent of the concept is in my head before I start," said Castro, who relocated to the U.S. from Argentina in 1999. "I just put the pieces on the floor and start to create."

The robots - or industrial sculptures, as he calls them - can be difficult to describe in words and photographs don't do them justice. Imagine the Disney animated character "WALL-E," but with missiles. Or Transformers, with sexy curves.

"I got the idea from watching cartoons," admitted Castro. "I've liked robots since I was a kid."

Castro currently has 14 robots in his collection, each vaguely similar in appearance but strikingly different in form and function. They all move and have workable parts. One robot, named "Black Widow," stands about three feet tall; its legs are recycled taillights taken off a 1969 Volkswagen Bug and its arms are bundles of springs that could have been stripped off old recliners.

Another sculpture, "The Crab," is 11 feet wide and weights 400 pounds. As its name implies, it resembles a giant red crab, with six legs and two outstretched claws. Its body is comprised of a Volkswagen car hood.

Castro has only publicly displayed his robots once before, at an auto show in Irvine. But next week's exhibit, titled "Bones of Steel," will be the first time Castro's entire collection has been available for public viewing.

"Bones of Steel" opens Friday, Oct. 11, at Stay Gallery from 8 p.m. to midnight. The event is open to the public with a suggested donation at the door.

Meanwhile, Stay Gallery will celebrate its one-year anniversary the day before, Oct. 10, with a 7:30 p.m. reception to thank its supporters.

"We are hosting our one-year anniversary event to thank the city of Downey, our sponsors, volunteers, staff, artists and everyone that has supported us along the way," said Valentin Flores, executive director of Stay Gallery. "It's thanks to our community that Stay Gallery has had a successful first year of operation."

********** Published: Oct. 3, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 25