Less than two years ago, junk picker Ray Guest of Longview was inspired to create art from the scrap metal he collected. Since then, he started his own company, Recycled Salvage Design, and has made dozens of tables, benches and sculptures by combining and repurposing discarded metal.
His industrial and Steampunk inspired creations wildly vary, depending on what he feels the moment his welding hood comes down.
He created an end table by welding together a large gear, an industrial chain and a metal plow disk. His industrial steel furniture coffee table is made from a recycled salvage diamond plate with metal bars as legs. He transformed a saw blade, bars of steel and a heavy chain into yard art made to look like a flower.
Guest originally sold individual pieces of scrap metal to mostly interior decorators. "I didn't know what they were doing with it," he says.
The more he thought about it, the more apparent it became to him that the pieces – gears, chains, pieces of fencing etc. - could be combined to form art and functional items.
"I started selling this iron stuff, going out to Canton (First Monday Trade Days) to sell it," Guest says. "I was trying to explain to people what they could do with it, and they weren't getting it. So I bought a welding machine for $75 and taught myself how to weld."
He occupies two adjacent recreational vehicle storage units in Longview – one in which he works in and the other he uses to store scrap metal.
Although sales of his furniture are steady, Guest wants to focus more on making sculptures.
"I would like to do more sculptures to tell my story. I got jilted by a girl and she told me I had too much baggage. So I came out here that night and I started welding and you know … I looked at (the completed sculpture) and said, ‘that's baggage.'"
In a way, his work has been therapy. Guest pours himself into the extremely physical labor as a way to deal with problems and frustrations.
"My life has been like the art, it's all making a full circle back here," he says.
He says initially becoming established as an artist was a struggle. He knew little about marketing and the work involved in getting his heavy pieces into shows and before the public.
But his perseverance has paid off. He's been invited to display his work in the Houston area and has pieces on view at Winnsboro Center for the Arts. A 4-foot tall heart-shaped sculpture made from the chain of an anchor is on view at Longview Museum of Fine Arts.
His industrial-style art and furniture is in demand by those who live in cities – especially New York City – and is popular with Steampunk enthusiasts. He credits his success to his nontraditional style.
"I haven't had any education in art, so I don't know what should be (a certain way)."
Occasionally he uses wood or old signs in his designs. "I'll leave it as close to the natural color, because I'm fascinated with how the old-timers would rig up stuff."
For Guest, everything has possibilities for being incorporated into art or furniture. In his storage units are pieces of fencing, truck springs, anchor chains, missile casings from World War II and more.
His background as a picker enables him to mine spots around East Texas to acquire scrap metal that most people throw away.
"People said I have a creative eye. I can always see something in the junk. ... I don't know what it's going to be (in the end). I'll hang onto it. I'll set it aside because one day I may look at it and see what it can be."
Guest jokes that he is a recycled man. He says that if it's not too late to make something beautiful out of long-neglected scraps, then it isn't too late for him either.
Watch Guest turn junk into art on his YouTube channel: youtube.com/channel/UCQoVsjsgC_Xn0EmwzYBRodQ/videos. See his work at recycledsalvage.com