Justin Gray is ahead of his time, in the way that most inventors are. He started building kinetic bikes when he was just 14 years old, and a year or two later, when most kids are just learning to drive a car, he was mastering the art of welding. By the time he was 18, he had started a full-time apprenticeship with a metal sculptor, and then in 1998, his passion caught fire — literally. He began building fire sculptures and robotics and traveling to festivals and exhibits all over the world to show his creations.
This January. 20-22, Gray will be bringing his latest and greatest incarnations to Telluride Fire Festival, robots named Libby and Charlie. “They’re sort of untethered, kinetic, mobile sculptures,” says Gray. “They drive around and the fire controls are all done through a radio transmitter.”
Gray takes pride in the aesthetic of his metal sculpture. He says he makes most of his income as an electric vehicle designer and custom car builder, but fire robots are his trade craft. He puts a lot of effort into their form, to make sure the texture and flow is just right, with hand-selected stainless steel fuel lines. And he enhances the artful design with engineering, so that the robots move around, manipulate things, and burn. “They burn in this weird, almost biological manner, in all sorts of colors. It’s overwhelming even to its creators. Fire is the oldest and most pleasing form of entertainment, and it adds a whole new dimension to the fine art sculpture.”
Gray is just one of the entertainers that will be on hand at the Fire Festival. The event features free performances and art installations every evening from 5–8 p.m. in Mountain Village and on the Oak St. Gondola Plaza, as well as workshops in fire dancing and spinning, aerial silk acrobatics, welding, and glassblowing. On Saturday evening, there will also be a fire sculpture garden at the top of Lift 7 on the ski resort, with flaming frames for photo ops, a fire spinner with hand cranks, and a late night burn. Saturday also marks the main event for the festival, the Fire Ball, with aerial silk and hoop performers and fire spinners. The Fire Ball is a ticketed event ($35 online, $45 at the door) and there will be costumes, food, drinks, and live music by Roger Clyne, DJ Ryan Smith, DJ Strangefellow, and LoveTribe.