Chemical Reactions, Rust Create Beautiful Prints in Brian Kirk’s “Natural Reaction” at Alexandria’s Art League Gallery

“Orb with Moon,” 41″ x  30″, rust print on archival paper.

Sculptor and print maker Brian Kirk courts chemical reactions to create ephemeral, phantom-like prints from rusting metal. A marriage of art and science, Kirk’s rust prints bloom in hues of lush amber, ochre, and apricot. Born of rigid metal, from saw blades to steel wool, the prints that emerge are organic, almost cellular. “Rust used to be my nemesis as a welder—any nicks or scrapes in my steel sculptures had to be repainted to prevent rust. I made peace with rust through this process,” Kirk remarked. “Natural Reaction” will be on view at The Art League Gallery, September 5—October 7, 2018, with the opening reception happening Thursday, September 13, 6:30–8:00 pm.

To create his rust prints, Kirk fashions an outdoor printing press by sandwiching a composition of flat metal objects—keys, nails, or his own iron sculptures—between two sheets of thick watercolor paper or linen. Weighted under a marble slab, the metal objects are submerged in a solution of soapy water for several months. A redox reaction occurs, as water and oxygen corrode Kirk’s compositions, leaving behind ghostly imprints in shades of chestnut, sienna, and umber. Kirk remarked that this process is “unpredictable—and that’s what makes it interesting to me.”

Iron oxide particles often pool in rusty halos around the metal objects, softening sharp edges and lending the prints an ethereal quality. Some of his prints, like “Trilogy,” feature vivid washes of cerulean, due to the addition of indigo dye. Like steel, indigo dye is a reactive material, creating its signature blue stain when dye and oxygen mingle.

Kirk’s “Votive Hand” beckons viewers with a single open palm, a radiant white circle pierced through the middle. Reminiscent of religious icons, this fawny brown palm was sculpted with a plasma cutter before undergoing its rusty rebirth. According to Kirk, “Votive Hand” was inspired by a Hopewell Indian artifact: a mica effigy hand found in a burial mound near Chillicothe, Ohio.

As an artist and naturalist, Kirk hopes viewers will join in his wonderment of the natural world, appreciating that everything—water, plants, animals, humans, art, science—is interconnected. “Art doesn’t just happen in a vacuum; it’s a part of living,” Kirk reflected. Just as rust has become a ubiquitous part of our urban landscape, Kirk hopes art, in all forms, remains an essential part of the human experience.

Kirk received his BA in Fine Arts from George Washington University and his Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has received grants to study and teach across the globe, including Beijing, China, and Shizuoka, Japan. His work has been exhibited throughout the DC area, including the Frank Raflo Park Sculpture Trail, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Center, and George Washington University, where he recently held a solo exhibition. Kirk continues to experiment with rust printing techniques, and teaches Metal Sculpture at The Art League school in Alexandria, VA. He also serves as the Fine Arts Department Chair at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, VA.


105 North Union Street

Studio 21

(located in the Torpedo Factory Art Center)

Alexandria, VA 22314


Information: or 703-683-1780


Gallery Hours:

Daily, 10:00 am–6:00 pm

Open Thursdays until 9:00 pm

Sundays, 12:00 noon–6:00 pm


*The Torpedo Factory may close at 5:00 pm for events. Please check Today’s Hours to see if this affects your visit

Mary Wadland

Mary Wadland is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, founded by her in 2010. Originally from Delray Beach, Florida, Mary is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke, VA and has lived and worked in the Alexandria publishing community since 1987.

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