Inspiration Doesn’t Come Easy

In 2015 I embarked on one of the craziest road trips you can imagine. Darla and I took a 2016 Dodge SRT® Viper ACR and drove it from Detroit to Las Vegas and back. It was an epic journey through rain and snow and mountains and desert in a hard core “street” car built to snatch souls and destroy track records. It’s an adventure I’ll never forget.

That car sunk its fangs into me and 4 years later it has yet to let go. Obviously it’s wickedly quick with copious amounts of power and a wild look, but it’s more than that and more than the sum of its parts. It’s a throwback to the days gone by where engineers didn’t have to worry about trivial things like how much noise it made or how harsh the ride was or the smoothness of a shift or if you could see behind you or if your golf clubs fit in the trunk. It’s definitely not everyone’s bag, but it is mine. It’s a vicious machine with a blackened heart as enticing as it is frightening; you might enter the cockpit as Arthur Fleck, but by the end of your first mile you’ve become the Joker.

As an artist, inspiration is a funny thing. It is the one factor that turns nothing into something special that I have yet to fully understand. Creativity is just problem solving. Skill is earned with talent honed by hard work. The vision is knowing the end in your mind’s eye and using skill and creativity to reach that end. Inspiration however, it comes and goes.

It’s something I never really had to worry about. It was always just there, stirring up my imagination and pushing me to create and to evolve. Then all of a sudden, it was gone.

There were some extenuating circumstances at play. Arm surgeries, multiple car thefts, a shop robbery, a spinal cord implant, a move, etc. In addition to all of that, I’m doing more writing now and of course there’s the day job. Mostly, I think I just got tired both physically and mentally. I’ve never been one to just go through the motions and I didn’t feel like I had anything new to say through my art.

Every year from 2012 to 2017 I’d driven to Vegas for the SEMA show to display my sculptures in the event’s Art Walk. Last year I skipped the show, partially due to a schedule conflict, but mostly because I didn’t really have much to display.

After taking a year off from the show in 2018, I decided to return this year. That meant I needed to start and finish a sculpture (or three) for the first time since 2017.

Due to the implant procedure, time was of the essence. I didn’t get cleared for work until a month before the show; the “SEMA crunch” is real and not just for hot rod and custom car builders. I felt the pressure to get stuff done while trying something new and figured I’d finally scratch an itch that had been bugging me for a while. The ACR sculpture had to happen. With inspiration from my end lacking, I needed to tackle a subject that embodies that idea.

It didn’t take long for that fire inside of me to ignite again. I drew out some basic proportions on my workbench and began putting the Viper’s basic shape together. However, it was the ACR hood that stoked the flames. With every sculpture there’s that “aha!” moment. Sometimes it’s immediate and other times it’s not until the piece is done, but for this sculpture the “aha” moment was while working on the hood.

The excitement was back and I couldn’t wait to finish it. The proportions were challenging because if you stick to a strict scale the thing just doesn’t look quite right. I learned a long time ago that when it comes to art if it looks right, it’s right. I experimented for a bit with using pieces of old painted scrap metal to give the Viper’s body color. But in the end I used raw metal, mixing in stainless steel, mild steel, silicon bronze and aluminum bronze. The materials are compatible to an extent and the different properties react uniquely through the welding process. The colors are actually oxides that form when the metal is exposed to the atmosphere at different temperatures.

The base of the sculpture was inspired by Road Atlanta. The track tailing off into the distance mimics what you see when looking from a certain angle. The trick with sculptures, for me, is the illusion of detail. It’s not a model or a replica, it’s my interpretation of the object. I try to find the features that make the subject special. The rear strakes, the x-wing, the double bubble roof, the brake duct opening on the front fenders, the crosshair grill. The goal is to give the viewer enough so that their mind fills in the rest. It’s unique to each person who views it.

The ACR sculpture was a big hit at SEMA and it’s going to a deserving home! My good friend Ralph Gilles purchased it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ralph, he is the current head of Global Design for FCA and former boss of Dodge and SRT. He is a huge reason SRT is the soulful, successful brand it is today. It’s a pretty sweet feeling and definitely a sort of validation to have someone of his stature like it enough to want to own and display it.

Life’s frustrations can definitely become overwhelming. But there is a quote from one of my favorite philosophers that sticks with me and helps me understand that maybe these struggles are necessary:

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Bring it on, life. I eat chaos for breakfast.