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Fanciful reclamations

Paul Eppling transforms metals and discarded objects into artwork. The result: striking, comical pieces such as a joyful lizard and a sly armadillo.

Filled with fanciful creatures both of this world and from his own mind, Paul Eppling's art creates an escapade of fantasy. His new show, "What I Did Last Summer," features 15 of his bold and whimsical welded-metal and found-object statues made between June and November.

One of the intriguing aspects of the St. Petersburg artist's work is how he combines diverse pieces into a unified artwork. Only upon further inspection does the mind begin to break the statue down into its components.

"I enjoy the challenge of found-object art," he said. "There are so many shapes and forms out there. I really enjoy the process of working the shapes together."

One part of the Salt Creek Artworks show helps explain Eppling's artistic process. Next to a sketch of a lizard-bird creature is a pile of car bumpers, machinery parts and other scraps. Some are placed on top of the sketch to show how he would put this statue together.

The artist explains the next step:

"After I finish welding the pieces together, I take them to a dip tank. This is the same type of dip tank used to restore antique cars. It runs the metal in each piece through a reverse electrolysis, which removes every bit of rust and paint. Then I flood it with black zinc chromate, to prevent rust, and buff it with a wire wheel. Lastly, I coat each piece with a clear lacquer."

Eppling's work reflects his sense of humor. In Evolution, a lizard-like animal kneels, head back, arms up in a moment of rejoicing. The beast has "just discovered that he has a belly button and is therefore renouncing evolution and embracing creationism," Eppling explains.

Road Rage, a depiction of a giant armadillo, was inspired by Eppling's quip that yellow road stripes are secretly installed at night by armadillos. Here, the armadillo is caught in the act as he stands in the center of a secluded road, the next strip of pavement line dangling from his mouth. A set of improvised car headlights spotlight the creature's sneaky deeds in this piece, installed specially for the exhibit.

Eppling's work enjoys a wide-open space at Salt Creek Artworks.

"I want a certain elegance and space around each piece," explained curator Lance Rodgers. "I want each on a pedestal. I want people to stop and look at each one individually."

Art review

"What I Did Last Summer," at Salt Creek Artworks, 1600 Fourth Street South, St. Petersburg, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat. through Jan. 5; (727) 894-2653.