Wall Clocks and Mechanical Desks have never been as sweet as the intricate craft-artwork of Dale Mathis, an American with a studio in Las Vegas, who works with the reliable expertise of Filipino business partner Chris Vengzon in their Pampanga workshop and showroom. Dale has sold his limited series ‘artifacts’ to celebrities in the U.S. and his work is exhibited at 10 or more museums in the States. REACH first got a glimpse of Dale’s stunning Clockwork Art at the 2013 F.A.M.E. exhibit in SMX. REACH was fortunate to interview the well-mannered, inspiring gentleman and his marketing point man Russell about Dale Mathis Studios at their studio in Clark..
REACH: What makes clockwork and gears your choice of theme and material for art constructs, particularly Clockwork and Steampunk Desks?
DALE: I think it goes back to when I was a child. My father was a carpenter and so was his father. Dad was a gear guy. I guess I kind of picked up on that as a kid and I just evolved. I was always an artist and I just incorporated everything that dad did in the work and the craft that I do. But I do remember a specific reason why I like Clockwork Art. It goes back to when I was a bachelor. I was married in 1996 before getting divorced, and I went back to living on my own again, and I got my first apartment by myself. I wanted the place to look really, really cool—like ‘MTV Cribs’. So I built this big giant wall clock to match the furniture. Then it just kind of evolved into more elaborate art pieces.
REACH: I’ve seen you demo an earlier version of the astrological clock on a craftwork website video and was surprised that you use actually make the wooden gears yourself. I thought it was actual stainless steel rather than silver leaf and gold leaf inlay. But the product still looks sweet. How would you as an artist tell kids how to make good art from scratch? What ideas can they put together?
DALE: I would definitely encourage other artist to experiment with other mediums and material and good ideas. The thing with the gears was me wanting to make a clock with the working parts showing. Usually when I make a clock, I wouldn’t show the gear elements in them at all, because I didn’t know how to make them. And I couldn’t afford to make a clock out of metal so the best thing to do was to try and make them out of wood and make them mimic a metal gear. This goes back to when I was a kid and addicted to model kits like cars and airplanes and all that geeky stuff. I tried to handcraft each part then put them together like a model kit.
REACH: Aside from your high-end, limited edition handcrafted art pieces, your metal dice are really amazing quality work. Do you intend to offer a more expansive product offering?
DALE: That’s something me and Russ are working on. When I say me and Russ, Russell is my marketing manager in the Philippines and my partner with Chris. My main place is The Art of Dale Mathis Vegas, while Russell and Chris work off Dale Mathis Studios Inc., which is based in the Philippines—which is a subsidiary of my U.S. home base. Russ, Chris and I have been talking about expanding the business into other directions.
One of the biggest problems with Dale Mathis Art are ticket prices on the art pieces. The average piece goes from US$2000 to US$30,000. This kind of cuts out the regular guy that likes the artwork. The majority of fans of my work are regular people. So we have been discussing ways of getting fans what they want. Everyone wants a Lamborghini but not everyone can afford a Lamborghini. The majority of our clients belong to that 1 percent of society that can drop $30,000 on a desk. So now we’re just going in the direction where we can make something that has the same look and feel as the bigger items but at much more affordable price, like the Kickstarter project with the playing card deck casings with gears built into them. Across that product line there are basic as well as premium offers as you can see in Kickstarter but none costing $30,000.
REACH: The explosive response from all quarters to your art has been very encouraging largely because your art is a modern renaissance of machine art and custom furniture. Custom made handcrafted everything seems to be what everyone is now doing for business—websites for handcrafted work are going big—Lumberjocks, and Scoutmob. What is your take on this revolution of handcrafted merchandise?
DALE: I think the industry I’m referring to—art for sale, the design trends of art pieces and even gear and everything—is going into that industrial art motif. For a while, design followed what Steve Jobs put out in the Apple iPod and products took everything into minimalism and clean designs. I think we’re at a point now where people are very interested in stuff that isn’t just everything clean lines.
If you made a desk, wouldn’t it be cool to see the different bolts showing to see how it holds up together? I think that has a lot to do with the gaming industry and the geek world. So yes, I guess we’re going through a little bit of a renaissance for machine art and clockwork design right now. Even though steampunk has been around since the 70s and looks like it is coming into its own right now. Not a lot of people know about steampunk but when they see the artwork they enjoy it. Good design never goes out of style.
REACH: What advice would you give starving artists with limited resources but with really intense ideas for art? Is craftwork really how everything will be made in the future? Personalized masterpieces? No matter what the price whether for something as crude as a wooden bowl or ceramic dinner plate, to skill-intensive craftwork like your mechanical art? Will craftsmanship offer hope to artists for striking gold?
DALE: It depends on the direction that artists want to go. Up until recently we have done limited edition pieces. One of 100 or 1 of 250 like that. If you are looking to create a business or a product—like say Clock Art on a mass production level, the odds are you’ll make a lot of money compared to what we do. But what an artist would make of the same thing as high end limited edition products—it makes the value of your company and you as an artist at a higher level a little bit faster than if you sold it on a Walmart in the U.S.
REACH: You’ve chosen the Philippines as your second home away from Vegas and it is no surprise choosing Angeles City given the large expat community as well as the support for business investments, the international airport and easy access to Manila. How was dealing with a Filipino business partner to help you manage local production of craft intensive art pieces?
DALE: I work with Chris Vengzon, my business partner. He’s a great guy, he’s smart. He knows the manufacturing business and he has experience in running one because he ran a lighting company in the U.S. for 30 years. He’s fabulous. I couldn’t ask for a better business partner and friend.
On a personal level, when I first came here it was difficult getting used to living away from America, since I was used to a certain lifestyle. When I went here I was broke. I had to adjust first and over the years I have adapted to my environment. The people are beautiful. I’ve never had any bad situations with Pinoys. But with foreigners it’s a different story, had some difficult situations with them but never with Pinoys. In Vegas where I’m from, there are a lot of Pinoys, and we’re cool even there.
REACH: Would you encourage other Americans and business people to check out what they can do if they work with good people from the country?
DALE: I would definitely encourage businesses in the Philippines especially if it is a craft related business. Compared to another Asian partner. My business partner asked me if I wanted to go to Asia to do business. But with me being a foreigner and not knowing the difference in Asian countries, I kind of stereotyped the Philippines at that time
REACH: Is production of precision-crafted art a difficult manufacturing concern when you need to maintain build quality? Can you provide pointers to other artists-craftsmen how to keep their operations in good stead?
DALE: Train your staff. If you train your staff right, you get the right product. Make sure your staff is happy. This isn’t just in the Philippines but anywhere. If people are not happy they won’t be doing good work at all.
REACH: Right now, are all of the designs from Dale Mathis Studios coming from you or have you gotten people to assist you in creating craft artifacts for limited edition runs as well as mass production?
DALE: Creating a new line of work called the Design Series. Bring Chris give fresh ideas into the company. Now that I have things to do everything for the company 24-7. In the meantime, bring in a new designer based off my stolid work. Another reason was put in a line of work that is neutral, usually the Art of Dale Mathis Studio has a very masculine theme. We’re coming up with a line of ArtClocks that are attractive to females.
REACH: You’ve worked with Filipino counterparts to assist your production team. What advice would you give other Americans looking at the country for business partner opportunities? What can they expect? How would you compare us with say China or the other Asian countries as an investment option?
DALE: I would definitely encourage business partnerships in the Philippines especially if it is a Craft related business. Chis, my business partner asked me sometime back, “Hey would you like to go to Asia to do business?” But with me being a foreigner and not knowing the difference in Asian countries I kinda stereotyped the Philippines, and asked him: “Do I have to worry about people copying my work?” And he said “No! Not in the Philippines, in the country you have much more loyalty. It’s more of a family oriented as far as the culture is concerned.”
REACH: A lot of good people with the means to buy good art have supported your work and exhibits from institutions to celebrities. Do you have more famous people lined up as buyers for your artwork?
DALE: As of today, I don’t have any personal custom orders from anybody. But the way it works is that most of the time, I don’t know that a famous person gets a piece from the collection until after. I didn’t ever know Damon Wayans (In Living Color) bought my desk. He sent his people to buy my desk. Many buyers get stuff from me. I only find out later that it was him (Wayans) that bought the desk. It could be that a lot of people who buy off my shelf are famous but you don’t know. Because they don’t want to make a big deal out of it and they don’t want you to use their names as well, so I respect their privacy and let them enjoy what they get.
REACH: You’ve been through the starving artist mode before getting to the Art Expo Las Vegas. From then on it has been a good run for you. What advice do you have for fellow craftsmen about their artwork?
DALE: Follow your heart. Follow your dreams and if you believe in something there should be nothing stopping you from achieving. Don’t let anyone hold you back. That might be a good question for my Filipino design partner here, Carl…
CARL: My take on the question is for other artists to keep learning. Do research and absorb new things. You have to go all out. There is no limit to knowledge and learning. You get better as an artist and your work will shine.
REACH: What are the best stories behind your favorite Art Pieces?
DALE: For “Beat of my Broken Heart,” the inspiration was my daughter, whom I raised from when she was young until an unfortunate incident sometime back. Before I came to the Philippines I had a rocky relationship with a woman and split up with her and I decided to go to the Philippines instead to start over, bringing my daughter with me. My daughter’s mother wanted to continue her career in entertainment because she was in this R&B group, and stay in the U.S.. She wanted to see the kid before we flew off. Unsuspecting of anything, I let her and she ran off with my daughter right at the airport. And again it was a choice of going after her in the courts, or continuing with my journey in the Philippines, so I let her take care and raise my daughter in the U.S. and as I began my art pieces, I made this especially for my daughter. Her mother and I are good friends now, but before, it was rather trying time for both of us. But we move on. People who learn of the story say they get what I’m saying and some guy even tattooed the “Heart” on his chest because he went through the same ordeal.
For the “Key to Freedom,” it was inspired by growing up in a home and surviving abuse by keeping a hope that we would be free. My mom and my dad separated and I had a brutal stepdad who had an uncontrollable temper. So my siblings and I would keep watch through a door knob I fashioned that let us see through to the room outside our house. When we saw our stepdad come home, we would fix the room up and be ready and quiet. The “Key” is a symbol of hope to escape the bad things in your lives. I don’t care where you are from because we all have issues. Art is therapeutic. To me I just express it through my art. When we create something I think it’s important to put a piece of oneself in it. And if you can touch someone with the artwork then great.
REACH: Russell, as marketing manager for Dale Mathis Studios in the Philippines, how is it working with Dale’s designs in the Philippine workshop and how does his work process go?
Russell: Dale is in a partnership with a Filipino businessman, Chris Vengzon, who has 25 years of experience with manufacturing. Dale showed his art pieces to Chris and necessary adjustments were made in engineering design for producing the artwork locally as Dale’s workshop is based in Pampanga. Chris and Dale hired local designers and they were taught how to build and make the craftwork pieces. All the local designers-craftsmen are working the items under the direction of Dale Mathis
REACH: Russell, for marketing a handcrafted limited edition high-end, art piece, how do you get people to know about your product?
Russell: The U. S. is the main market for Dale Mathis’ artwork. We distribute in commercial art galleries throughout the U.S.. Dale is based in Vegas and has his home base there. We have just tapped other regions in Asia like China, with Chris Vengzon helping us get into the CHINA-ASEAN EXPO with the help of CITEM. We’ve just had our first exhibit in the Middle-East, in Dubai with the help of the DTI. Locally we coordinate with, and support F.A.M.E’s yearly showcase of local talent. Including shows with CFID. We also market the artwork through our website.