When most people look at a mound of used bicycle parts they see (at best) the potential for scrap metal, or possibly a refurbished bike. But when Carolina Fontoura Alzaga looks at the same junkyard of rust and discarded, greasy metal, she sees interior design.
"I was living at the collective Clandestino's in 2005, and saw a DIY pot rack hanging in the kitchen," says Alzaga of the early inspiration for her chandeliers. "It was a bike rim on its side, with all these pots and pans hanging from it. And from there I got the idea to do a mobile from bicycle parts, which eventually became the chandeliers."
A graduate of East High School, in 2005 Alzaga was studying art at Metro State, often utilizing the plethora of bike parts lying around Clandestinos for fun side-projects like sculptures and even clothing. "Art school was taking up all of my time, not really allowing me any room for personal projects. I was just doing whatever was required of me."
For some art students, a comprehensive, demanding curriculum is necessary to keep the artist busy and engaged. But for someone like Alzaga -- for whom inspiration comes as easy and often as a heartbeat -- outside demands can be somewhat frustrating. She remembers the early influence of local painter Ravi Zupa, encouraging her to paint regardless of training or ability; and her first patron, comedian and Denver nativeT.J. Miller, illuminating the possibilities of a supportive community and living off your art. All of this led Alzaga to pursue her own creative vision regardless of her major.
After tinkering around with making bicycle chandeliers in the little free time she had, the opportunity finally arose for Alzaga to devote herself completely to the project. "I knew making a bicycle chandelier was going to be time-consuming, so it wasn't until my BFA thesis that I was given the first opportunity to do whatever the hell I wanted. So I proposed this bicycle sculpture to my advisers, even though my background was in digital art and painting. And they approved it."
Alzaga received "Best in Show" for her thesis project, and donated the chandelier to Derailer -- a local bicycle collective -- where it still hangs. "They're doing a really amazing thing: a free, volunteer run bicycle collective," Alzaga gushes. "They were really supportive of me when I first started."
A week after graduating in 2007, Alzaga moved to Mexico City -- where some of her family lives -- and began making her bicycle chandeliers full time, showing her work in galleries around the city. Known as "The CONNECT" series, the chandeliers began taking on a glamorous, Victorian beauty, while still maintaining the contrasting theme of recycled bicycle anatomy.
After that, Alzaga traveled the world, bouncing between Berlin, L.A., Mexico City and Denver -- all the while continuing to produce her eccentric cycle lamps. "I would just work out of my friends' garages, living rooms and porches," she says. "At that time, my production wasn't so big, so I could have these make-shift ateliers."
Things have changed since then. Now based in L.A., Alzaga keeps very busy satiating the demands for her elegant designs -- which have been celebrated in international publications such as Zink, Vice, Juxtapoz, Sunset and Glow. Though her Denver roots are never far from her heart or her business: she donates ten percent of her profits to Derailer.
"Even though we're not blood related, I still have so much family in Denver," says Alzaga. "It's incredibly important to me to recognize where I came from. I'm so proud of the fact that I went to East High School, and graduated from Metro. I worked at the campus art gallery for two years, and the director, Shannon Corrigan, was so important to my development as an artist. I'm very proud of where I come from."
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Continue for more pictures of Carolina Fontoura Alzaga's bicycle chandeliers