Let’s face it: if knives are your specialty, you probably enjoy a bit of dark humor.
It’s certainly true of Erik Bogner, a Tempe, Arizona-based metalsmith who draws from a range of colorful influences – fantasy, folklore, video games, samurai culture, science fiction, cyberpunk – to create all manner of artful blades.
As an MFA candidate at Arizona State University pitching his idea for an all-knives thesis project to a faculty review board, he presented a Japanese-style tanto dagger he’d made called Failures’ Options. “Every bit of it is a failure,” he explains. “It’s a billet that fell apart on me. The silver bolster is all scraps and failed castings that I melted down and re-casted. The handle is wood salvaged from a bowl I was turning that blew apart. Even the gems in the rivets are miscut.”
The punch line of the concept – that in the event of failure he could always use it to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide – made eyes pop, requiring him to stress that he would never actually contemplate such a thing. But as an expression of his sly wit and fascination with the samurai, he notes drily, “It got my point across.” (Postscript: He completed his thesis project in 2011, and Failures’ Options not only did not fail, it won best of show in “Cutting Edge,” a recent jewelry and metals exhibition at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.)
Dark humor aside, Bogner is serious about his craft, devoting between 200 and 300 hours to a single piece. (He has done bowls and other forms in metal, but the knives are his current focus.) He fashions his blades from Damascus steel, fusing alternating sheets of carbon and nickel-content steel in a forge to produce a single billet (bar of metal), which he then draws out, cuts and re-stacks in up to hundreds of layers, then acid-etches to reveal swirly, random patterns.
While molten metal demands great technical control, the artist embraces the unexpected. “What happens, happens, and I work with it, or make it work for me,” he says.
He likes to combine the Damascus blades with found or unexpected materials. He’ll braid shoestrings for embellishment, pluck a scrap of lumber from a Dumpster and craft it into a sheath, cut up a computer circuit board for handle decoration. “All my pieces are artistic,” he says, “but I also want them to be functional if the people who have them wish to use them.”
Kireikon, his studio name, is also his gamer handle, an amalgam of Erik spelled backwards and reikon, which means “spirit” in Japanese. “It’s my own made-up little word, but it’s kind of the soul of me,” he says. “All my life I’ve been into video games, Dungeons and Dragons, stuff like that.”
Weaponry in the fantasy genre may be extreme, but it is grounded in tradition and authenticity, a respectful approach that Bogner brings to his work. “In fantasy books, there’ll be the knight with this really elaborate, odd sword, but you can see the historical accuracy in it,” he says.
“When I do my research to come up with ideas, I mostly start with a typical knife or blade form – say, a hatchet or meat cleaver, or a samurai-style sword,” he says. “Then I put my own little spin to it.”
Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.