www.chasebrandon.com

Cold War weaponry returns in a secret agents artwork.

Art show openings are customarily exclusive affairs, hence invitations are usually hard to come by. But we doubt there has ever been a debut quite as exclusive as the one for "Junkanimation." The price of admission was a top-secret security clearance. On a pleasant spring day shortly after the opening, the CIA invited POPULAR MECHANICS to its headquarters in the Virginia countryside to meet an intriguing artist and see his work.

The invitation modestly described. the exhibit as "a display of military modeling and art deco sculpting." After passing through two security checkpoints -- the last beneath the watchful gaze of bronze statue of World War II espionage legend "Wild Bill" Donovan, the "father of the CIA" -- we learned there was nothing ordinary about either the artist or his choice of materials.

For 24 years, artist Charles "Chase" Brandon had a day job with the CIA. If you want a 3-letter crossword puzzle entry that sums up his job, try s-p-y. Brandon lived and worked abroad as an undercover agent with an alias.

What's even more unusual than Brandon's choice of occupations prior to his recruitment by the CIA -- he was working as a machinist and studying for a Ph.D. in linguistics -- is his choice of art materials. PM's invitation to Brandon's show also described his work as made from "everyday scrap." But what's everyday stuff in the spy business is pretty exotic to the rest of us. For the nest 12 years, Brandon has been making his sculptures from the remains of some of the Cold War's most fearsome weapons. When the former Soviet Union collapsed, the CIA decided it was okay for his collection to come out of the cold.

Besides being just plain fun to look at, Brandon's sculptures made from "found objects" provide insights into Soviet warfare capabilities. In many of his pieces, Brandon displays a sampling of the source material next to the finished work. Shell casings from spent cartridges, for example, reveal that Soviet ammunition makers had none of the quality-control problems that plagued the country's automobile industry.

The brains visible through the head of "Junkules" (top left, opposite page) provide a rare glimpse at the internal workings of the much vaunted MiG 21. Surprisingly, parts from the jet fighter's communications gear, which are intermixed with VCR parts, include old-fashioned vacuum tubes!

In addition to fashioning artwork from weapons, Brandon has made his own interpretations of U.S. and Soviet weapons, a sampling of which are shown on these pages.

Now that a new world order has apparently been established, Brandon – who is now living in the United States -- is looking beyond military scrap for his inspiration and art supplies. In his workshop, a 1-liter soft-drink bottle becomes transformed into a blimp. "I see broken and scrapped items not as junked remains of something old and useless, but rather as precursors for creating something new and visually stimulating," he explained as he guided PM through the display inside CIA headquarters. "An ordinary thing looked at from a different angle can conjure a new and extraordinary image."

After making the rounds at various intelligence organizations in the Washington area, a "declassified" version of "Junkanimation" will be displayed at more public locations.

ILLUSTRATIONS

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BY JIM WILSON, Science/Technology Editor

Popular Mechanics

Wilson, Jim // Popular Mechanics;Sep97, Vol. 174 Issue 9, p72

Presents the Junkanimation, an exclusive exhibition of sculptures of Charles `Chase' Brandon, an undercover agent of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Brandon's occupation before his recruitment; Materials used for his sculptures.