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Bronx Sculptor Plans Fordham Road Tower of Old Bikes

By Patrick Wall | August 2, 2012 7:00am

KINGSBRIDGE — The tower was born on a paper towel.

Last year, Chris Marche, 33, a welder, MTA track worker and sculptor, scribbled a structure that curled toward the sky, a tangle of red and green and purple lines.

Marche imagined the monument rising above Fordham Road, the bustling commercial corridor where his sculpture, “Silver,” was already installed to great fanfare last year.

And, being a found-object artist with an affinity for the treasures of his home borough, The Bronx, he decided that the web of triangles and circles forming the 10-foot tower would be made of a hundred melded bicycles.

As he said on the fundraising website where he now hopes to raise $10,400 for the project from citizen-investors, “This is a celebration of what we love.”

Marche, who grew up in Yonkers and the north Bronx, first started machine work as a freshman at a vocational high school. Years later, after stints in one closing machine shop after another, he returned to his former school to teach his trade.

Then, five years ago, he began to apply his welding skills to art. In a cloud of smoke and sparks, he fused tires and toys and appliances into sculptures — becoming, in the process, the red-haired, motorcycle-riding Dr. Frankenstein of Kingsbridge.

Intrigued by his work, neighborhood art patrons started to offer Marche their refuse. Local kids donated their beaten-up bikes, a taxidermist friend brought over stuffed carcasses and cops from the precinct across the street, where Marche’s brother is an officer, drop off scrap metal.

Other times, Marche gathers material from the gas stations, body shops and trashcans near his apartment and workshop on Kingsbridge Avenue. 

“It’s amazing what people throw in the garbage,” Marche said.

Today, the walled-in walkway beside his apartment building serves as an outdoor workspace and sculpture garden.

That chrome throne? That is the mongrel offspring of a Toyota’s bumper, a police cruiser’s headlights, a Cadillac’s hubcap and a Hummer’s bumper.

That statue that bears a striking resemblance to Joe Ferrer, the hulking star of “Hard Parts: South Bronx”? His head is a ball of bent license plates, his hair a wig of melted toy cars, his chest a bundle of car lights and his zipper a car door handle. The statue will appear next season on the Speed TV reality show about Ferrer’s Bronx auto parts store.

“So many artists want to have a theme,” Marche said. “I just want to have fun.”

Last summer, Marche welded a 10-foot jumble of everyday objects — a refrigerator, a guitar, a mannequin, a typewriter, security cameras — with the word “Fordham” embedded at the center, its "o" shaped like a heart.

The sculpture, covered in silver matte paint, was installed at the intersection of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse and, almost instantly, became a hit.

“There isn’t a day that passes without seeing someone take a picture of ‘Silver,’” said Wilma Alonso, executive director of the Fordham Road BID which sponsored the installation, along with the Department of Transportation, as a way to bring new visitors to the district and to encourage recycling.

When Marche showed Alonso his bike tower drawing several months ago, she decided it belonged on Fordham Road as well.

“When I saw the sketch, I was like, ‘Oh, I want that one,’” Alonso said. “'You cannot show it to anyone else now — that goes to Fordham.'”

The BID invested $2,000 in the project, but Marche must raise the remaining $8,400 that he estimates he will need to build and install the sculpture.

To do that, he turned to the Lower East Side fundraising website Lucky Ant, a kind of Kickstarter-Groupon-hybrid that offers investors rewards for their support.

Depending on the size of their investment, bike tower funders can receive a signed copy of the conceptual sketch, a one-on-one welding lesson with Marche or, for a $1,500 contribution, a Japanese-style garden bench made from a bike frame and Plexiglas, with kickstands for legs.

“There’s an opportunity for you to sponsor the project and get a nice piece of art,” Marche said, “for well below what we normally sell for.”

So far, the project has only drawn $100 in online investments, but it has another two weeks to reach its goal.

On Monday, Marche gave an admirably animated tour of his sculpture garden and studio, considering he was running on three hours of sleep after a midnight shift at his MTA job where he repairs underground subway tracks.

At one point, some kids in the building next door tossed a couple of neon water gun parts over the fence to Marche’s lot.

Marche squinted at the plastic scraps, junk to anyone else, then mused, “Maybe they’re supporting the arts.”