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Cast-offs become art in Jim Dore’s re-bots

Jim Dore of Overland Park creates robots that he calls re-bots from recycled items. The robots are displayed in his home in Overland Park and are marketed under Re-Bots Lifeform Manufacturing Co.
Jim Dore of Overland Park creates robots that he calls re-bots from recycled items. The robots are displayed in his home in Overland Park and are marketed under Re-Bots Lifeform Manufacturing Co. The Kansas City Star

Jim Dore likes to laugh. That’s one reason he owns two dachshunds: for their “extraneous wiggle.”

He designs Twinkie posters for a living, brews beer for sustenance and builds robots out of spare parts for kicks.

He’s also a family man, with a wife tolerant of his many hobbies (she suggested installing a kegerator in their living room), and a toddler who’s showing tendencies of following Mom’s and Dad’s affinity for engineering. The toddler daughter’s second word was “wobot.”

Your day job is as an art director for Bernstein-Rein. Is that what you’ve always wanted to do?

I’ve been on a long series of different roads trying to figure out which way I want to go. Originally I wanted to be an architect, but I thought that was too limiting. I went to film and theater school, then switched to journalism.

Once I was out of school, I thought I’d be an advertising copywriter, but that did not go well. I got a job at an Internet startup that failed miserably with the dot-com bust.

I had $10 and no way to pay rent, so I took a job in IT for a financial company for six years. I was good at it, but talk about a complete lack of passion. Two years into it, I wanted out, but Emily was only making 18 cents, so I stayed until she moved up the ladder.

I built a couple of websites and figured out that I liked doing that and I had decent talent for it. I had never taken any type of art class and never considered myself an artist in any way, shape or form until I got thrown into it. So I quit my job to go back to school full time and started over at 31.

Now that you can officially call yourself an artist, is it as fulfilling as you’d hoped?

The challenge of being a commercial artist is that you have to compromise what you do because it’s on somebody else’s dime. So I do a lot of personal stuff, which is really rewarding, like type design, posters and these re-bots, which are my favorite work by far. This is me and my own aesthetic and messaging.

How did you get into building robots?

As a kid I used to do a lot of technical things, like build remote control cars. I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of stuff. With the re-bots, it’s cool to be able to repurpose something into something beautiful in its own right, to give it new life.

Where do you find parts and ideas for your re-bots?

I’ll pick things up from parking lots, antique malls and estate sales. I will occasionally Dumpster dive. A lot of people just go through their basements and do what we call the “ding and dash,” where someone drops a box off at our door and runs. You’d be surprised what people throw out or don’t want.

Finding parts is easy; it’s putting them together in the right way that is the challenge. I bought a mixer for $1.50 that sat in my basement for years until somebody actually dropped something off I could use — an old broken amp. I ran downstairs and started drilling holes and made a DJ.

Sometimes you’ll find something cool, but without the right piece to go with it, it’s just a pile of stuff.

You give your re-bots proper English names or throaty Scandinavian names and hilarious bios. How do you come up with them?

I usually take cues from their physicality or individual parts, but some of them are completely non sequitur that I just think are funny. European names sound funnier to me. We could get into the science of comedy about guttural noises, but for the most part, that makes them more memorable.

A lot of these guys have a blue-collar feeling to them, and the Scandinavian-sounding names give them a regal air. I need to do more umlauts. Granted, I have thought about naming somebody Steve.

Are they made-up characters or based on real people?

Sometimes they are about specific people. On a piece that’s been commissioned, I will tailor the bio. I ask questions about what they like to do and catalog it for something I can find parts for. I send partial pictures, but they get no say in what the bio is going to be, and it’s so fun to surprise them. It’s super-individualized; nothing else will exist that has that same story.

Have you considered turning your passion into your full-time gig?

Yes, all the time. I joke with my wife that I’m going to quit and buy an old gas station and make re-bots, posters, typefaces and beer.

I’m pretty negative about my work and think no one wants to buy it. Some people look at the re-bots and think they should cost more than they do, while lots of other people are like “pffft.” And both of them are sort of right. Art is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it, and if someone wants to pay me $1,000 for one, great, but it doesn’t change things for me.

I like to keep grounded about it. It’d be a lot of fun to sit in the junkyard all day and find re-bot parts and make typefaces and posters that make me laugh, but there’s the fear of the phone stopping ringing.

What else do you like to do?

I’ve been doing a lot with beer lately. I like it because it’s accessible. It’s got three things I love wrapped into one: science, design and cooking. Lately I’ve been doing more complex beer styles that don’t necessarily go together, like a Gosa IPA with coriander.

It feeds into the old-school science nerd in me. I get bored easily and don’t want to do the same thing all the time. I would also love to build furniture. I’ve been told I have too many hobbies, though; it’s a blessing and a curse.

To learn more about or buy re-bots and blueprint posters, go to JimDore.com.