Chip FaRannte, originally from the Lehigh Valley and a Saucon Valley High School graduate, had been working in IT for several years when he decided he was burnt out and ready for a career change. The Dickson City resident has always loved art and looked to one of his biggest inspirations, his 12-year-old black Labrador named Kahlua, whom he credits as “really grounding him” in life. Now located at the Marketplace at Steamtown, Black Lab Fabrication, his business featuring silhouette artwork made from repurposed materials, was born four years ago.
Meet Chip FaRannte…
How did you become interested in art?
I have no true background in art. I was always artistic growing up. I took art class in high school. I actually flunked wood shop, which I think is hilarious, because I am all wood now. I first made a dog as a gift, and people saw it and asked me to make more. I was always drawing growing up, pen-and-ink, a little sculpting; I really liked playing with sculpting clay. It faded out as I got out of high school. Probably in my early 30s I got into making metal furniture.
Can you describe your style of art and what goes into it?
It’s not an intarsia, which a lot of people think it is. It’s a silhouette work, but with a reclaimed background. I have other styles like layered pieces. They’re all hand-cut, and the front layer is cabinet-grade plywood, but each layer behind it is a thinner layer of plywood.They’re all hand-painted and distressed. I’ve also made some pop art pieces. I recently started making the negative pieces. They use cutouts from other pieces. I frame everything with a palette wood, and the stuff that’s too beat up to use for a frame I use for something else, so I reuse my own scraps. I start with a pattern and design it on the computer. I print it out to whatever size I want done. Once I print it out, I transfer it onto the piece of wood and I cut it out. The wood I use is all cabinet-grade plywood. It’s a Baltic birch. It’s all cut by hand with a scroll saw. My background material in these is reclaimed material, so it’s all old doors, shutters, tins. When I first started, I’d pick these up here and there. Now I need it in bulk, so I go to places like Old Good Things in Scranton.
I just really enjoy making something out of something that probably would have gone in the garbage. I see beauty in something that would typically get thrown out. I don’t like to paint. It’s never something I’ve enjoyed doing. If I can avoid that, that’s a bonus too. I like the look of old chippy paint, but if you try to do it yourself, it never looks right. Even when I use old tins, I want one that has a rusty bottom or a big dent, something someone couldn’t really use for anything else. Finding the material is a lot of fun. I go to flea markets. With the dogs, I like to use a tape measure as the collar. I’ll go to a flea market on a Sunday and that’s my goal; I just look through all the bins looking for a tape measure.
How did you come up with this idea?
I stumbled into it. My family always does homemade gifts, and it’s always nice to make homemade gifts. For me, they have more meaning. I once saw a cutout of a dog with a solid piece of old wood behind it. I made one and used whatever I had lying around. I used a couple rulers, a piece of a license plate and random stuff. People saw it and asked me to make more.
What topics and artists inspire you?
I love street art, any graffiti art and Banksy’s style.
What message or vibe do you hope to share through your artwork?
I just want it to be fun. I think art is too serious sometimes. I just have a good time with it. It’s not serious at all. I just want people to take it in and enjoy it for fun. They can pick out stuff in the piece when looking at it again that they didn’t notice the first (time).
What other hobbies do you have?
I’m an outdoors guy, so hiking, and I like to ride my motorcycle. Other than that, I don’t get to do much anymore. I’m either working or at an art show. I try to do three- or four-day art shows.
What do you enjoy most about the art shows you attend?
One of my favorite things is trading for art. Anything, photography or other stuff I might not necessarily buy, but it seems different if you trade for it. You get a lot of interesting things. I got a plasma-cut aluminum mirror that I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise. It is really neat. I have a couple lamps, big photography pieces, paintings. It’s a lot of fun.
Can you name a person or advice you’ve received that has helped you along this path?
My mom and my girlfriend have been very supportive. Now that I moved here, I’m farther away from my mom, but if I had a big show coming up, she’d come and paint on the white on the bases of stuff for me, or my girlfriend will do that stuff for me. My whole family is all really supportive of it.
Emma Black is a photographer and writes Up Close and Personal, which spotlights people from all walks of life in NEPA who have a unique skill, craft, talent or trade. She is a graduate of Abington Heights High School and University of Scranton, where she studied journalism and electronic media. Emma has been with Times-Shamrock Communications since 2016 and enjoys playing, coaching and following soccer; exploring international cuisine; and doing arts and crafts in her free time. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100; @emmablack_13