In a world where one’s cup can constantly be filled with excess and the newest this-and-that, a growing group of whimsical and imaginative people are contributing to a hopeful future. Not one based on the present state of things, mind you: these steampunks, as they are known, have taken a leap back to a time when top hats, bustled skirts and monocles were the height of style, and have been reworking and reimagining technology, culture, art and fashion from the Victoria era. Under the vast umbrella of science fiction, the emerging aesthetic represents both a yearning for a more hopeful time in history, and imagines a world in which the Victorian ideals and innovations moves forward in time with the technology of the age.
Thin Gypsy Thief is a woodworker and luthier on Vancouver Island, currently working almost exclusively with a steampunk aesthetic. He is also known as Kyle Miller, and is a well-spoken and extremely dapper fella. He creates beautiful guitars and rebuilt amplifiers, as well as functional pieces like goggles and replica props, and more recently, fully functioning automata.
I sat down with Mr. Kyle Miller on a foggy morning on the island to discuss his work. It was interesting to hear that he hadn’t initially set out to make ‘steampunk’ art.
“I guess people started applying the label before I did. It was a style that had always stood out to me in other media. Movies, for example, like City of Lost Children, Brazil and more recently Wild Wild West, The Time Machine, and Back to the Future 3. I specifically liked sort of the polished look of the props, as though they might have been made in the present time. Once I realized that ‘steampunk’ was what I was doing, I just kind of accepted it. ”
Kyle continued to work with this aesthetic, producing a substantial body of work. He documents most of his work from concept to creation in detail on his website. In many ways, his art is for the part of us that remains imaginative and curious.
“I think of the bare bones of a machine such as a guitar amplifier, and I think about how I’d remake it. I like to see the machine working, so I try to limit things that cover the mechanics. I am really fascinated by automata, and there are some incredible masters of this type of work out there. I think the root of this stuff is about people having fun and being playful. It’s rewarding to being involved in something akin to alchemy – people’s eyes light up when they see something that piques the imagination.”
He became more deeply involved with the subculture of steampunk this year, attending the Victoria Steampunk Exposition and VCON (Vancouver’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention).
“I like that as a community, as a subculture, steampunk is relatively free of judgment. It is pretty inclusive and it encourages a ‘do it yourself’ kind of ethos. The level of inclusion and support people find, combined with that DIY style gives people a lot of confidence to make their own stuff and be creative. Everyone gets kind of a fair shot at expressing themselves and reaching out to the community for support.”
Although Kyle lives well outside of any major city, he told me that he hasn’t found geography to be as much of a challenge as it might have been to an artist promoting his work before the advent of popular social networking media like Twitter and Facebook.
“There’s a huge support network for steampunk on both the east and west coasts of the United States, so utilizing a website that is linked to my social network, and being active in steampunk forums like brass goggles has gone a long way to get my work out there.”
Kyle is hoping to be open again for commissions of his work towards the end of January. Admirers of his work can look forward to a greater focus on luthiery and instrument components in the New Year. Connect with him via twitter @steampunk22, Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.