Dallas' Felipe Velez fuses welding and abstract art into decorative, functional furniture
Felipe Velez and his Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts classmates were used to attending art workshops at school. Painters, sculptors and photographers had hosted these workshops before. But today’s lesson was different: The artist wore a helmet and leather gloves. Instead of a paint brush, his art tools were a torch and metal. In awe, Velez watched the welder as he pressed down the trigger of his torch, bright sparks flying as the fire blazed metal, melting it and forming different shapes.
“I was just used to organic, like straight lines and circles, and he's making his own shapes,” Velez says. “It blew my mind just seeing that.”
Velez has been an artist all his life, working on everything from painting to music, but that moment stuck with him. In 2014, a decade after the workshop, Velez founded AperZaper, a Dallas company that makes abstract furniture using welding fabrication techniques to show that art can be both decorative and functional for the home.
“I’m not the type of person to go out and look for ideas or inspiration,” Velez says. “I try to stay in my mind and just do things for me.”
Velez designs and makes abstract, mixed media furniture such as floating shelves, bookshelves, entertainment centers, tables and more. His works are made using metal, which he welds and then spray paints with vivid colors to stand out. He also mixes materials such as wood and fiber-optic LED lights and speakers into his pieces. Velez says that’s why his furniture stands out. They’re not pieces available at furniture stores, and they’re still functional and pleasing to the eye.
“All my pieces are one-of-one,” he says. “It’s something you’re proud of and proud to have.”
For example, one of his pieces is a shelf unit that lights up. Two rectangular wooden shelf boards are connected by mild steel legs forming a parallelogram shape. The shelf has circular silhouette frames and a squared base. To stand out more, Velez added color changing LED lights to the back circle frame.
Velez has used LED lights in other furniture pieces as well, including an acrylic chair inspired by the Dallas skyline. The chair, titled “Dallas Worldwide,” was made with lights, aircraft cables and a Bluetooth speaker and pays homage to Dallas artists. The back rest is in the shape of the Reunion Tower top with LED lights that symbolize the tower’s lighting system. The chair legs are acrylic re-creations of the Bank of America Plaza and Fountain Place and Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. The built-in speaker plays a playlist Velez curated with songs by Texas musicians.
“I’m kind of exploring what I can incorporate with everything,” Velez says.
Even though functionality is the goal of his work, Velez still wants it to be seen as a form of art. When working with a client, he draws out about six different design options for the client to choose from. This allows him to still have creative freedom and control of his own work, instead of feeling like he’s working for others. After the clients have made their decision, Velez starts building. It takes him about three days to complete a project.
Pricing for his furniture pieces depends on how much metal Velez will use for the design and how long it will take to build it. He says a large three-piece modular shelf unit with LED lights could cost up to $3,000.
“[Furniture] is very important and it is a part of our lives, it’s what makes us want to be home,” Velez says. “Even the way things are set up, the way stuff is laid out, and how it works.”
Velez says designing furniture is something he always wanted to do and while he wants to continue his craft, he also never wants to stop trying new things. His next venture will explore abstract jewelry.
“Growing into what I’m doing now and realizing how the craft has evolved on my end, I see jewelry and think, ‘I can do that. I know I can do that,’” Velez says. “I want to do it, I’m going to do it, for sure.”
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