Randy Grubb spends between 4000 and 7000 hours on each project. Now that's devotion. What inspires him? Part 2 of his interview.
I am really impressed by the amount of time you are willing to spend on your projects. I recently spoke with automotive artist Gregory Whitt. He would work for months in a row on oil paintings but you work for over a year on some of yours.
My projects often range between 4000 to 7000 hours each. What inspire me are things like Saint Peter’s Cathedral. When you walk into that building and see those marble pillars – 40 feet high and over eight feet in diameter – and realize they were done by hand over 150 years? That’s four generations. Nowadays things are all about efficiency – faster, quicker cheaper. Higher output. Instant gratification. I don’t subscribe to that because all you get out of it is crap. Crap that is filling up our landfills because it is disposable. This Cathedral provides no doubt that those 150 years were well spent. I believe real art is one of the best uses of human endeavor.
Typically, I don’t work on commission. I prefer to work on projects of my own volition and pay for the work out of my own pocket so that I can spend as much time and as much money as I wish to realize my project. I don’t want to be told by a client that things must be done quicker, faster, cheaper. It takes time to do this quality of work. By no means am I a master-craftsman. Michael Cooper, for instance, in my mind is the finest living craftsman in America today. He inspires me to take the time to do nice work. At the end of the day, what I’m trying to do is create a body of work. I want to create ten unique automotive sculptures. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as the guy who does the tank cars. I want to be diverse. Anything that I can dream, I can build out of polished metal. I have total freedom and with that freedom COMES a responsibility not to make crap.
I’m so fortunate to have the time and budget to be able to take these projects on. When I’m dead and gone, I want to leave a legacy of these sculptures. I want something with enduring artistic values. I wish to create significant, lasting, impactful art that will remain when my own page as turned.
So you are living your dream.
I truly am. I have a GT40 in my garage. I’m going racing in two weeks. What else can you ask for? [laughs].
It is so amazing to find one’s true passion and continue to pursue it for the rest of your life because then it’s not work anymore.
You’re right. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to do this. I’m very lucky. I have a network of craftsmen. We lean on one another and use each other’s expertise. The inside of the Decoliner, for instance, is lined with birch. I am not a woodworker. I have a friend who is a master cabinetmaker. He’s 82 years old and he did the wood on the inside of the Decoliner. In exchange, I helped him make some metal panels for his hotrod project. Don Tippet has done illustrations for my last few projects. We’ve been friends for years. We trade expertise. The whole network feels very pure. It’s not about the money; it’s about wanting to help.
How do you share and manage your projects? When you work with other artists, they must bring their own artistic vision to your work. What is that like?
That’s the hard thing – finding artists that are willing to put ego aside when working on someone else’s project. Most of the people that I’m talking about are over 65. I think that once you get that age and have things figured out, you stop jockeying for position on projects. You’ve made it by then. I’m so fortunate to have this group.
Michael Leeds has also helped me with design work and illustrations. We called ourselves the Blastolene Brothers. That was 12 years ago. It was just a cute name. My last name is Grubb – terrible name for a car. We dreamed up this Blastolene Brothers name. It became confusing because people thought we actually were brothers. People think that we work together in the same shop but we live 700 miles apart.
Are there any other automotive artists that inspire you?
Baron Margot is a perfect example of that. He’s inspiring for me even though we work very differently. Baron specialized in found object art. He finds a gas tank from an airplane and fits it over a chasse to make a rocket car, whereas I’m starting with flat sheets of metal. Baron is a much better artist than I am because he has to make sense of found objects and create something complementary. I have the freedom to make the shape from scratch. It’s easier for me to realize my shape. Because our approach is so different, our end results are very different. My pieces are very finely finished where Baron’s tend to be rougher around the edges as far as the final fit and finish. He masterfully marries objects together.
Michael Cooper is an unbelievable multi-media artist who has a sickening command over all materials. I am so envious of him. He’s a master with crafting wood, beyond all reason. He’s in California too. Michael is one of my heroes. I think it’s so important to have heroes. He’s one of the finest craftsmen working in America today.
My teachers are also a great source of inspiration. Ron Covell was the first guy that I ever took metal shaping classes from. He gave me the freedom of cutting up old cars. It was incredible to create cars from scratch that at this point in my car-building career is so appropriate and important.
I remember about 15 years ago going to a National Grand Stand show with a friend. Afterward we realized that nothing really stood out to us. We had started to test and inspect these cars to a truly stupid degree. And I realized that I wanted to branch out and show this community that there are others things to perfect and other areas to explore. When I first came out with the Jay Leno tank car there was a lot of question about whether it was cool or stupid. People recognized that it was extreme but until Leno bought it there were a lot of people o the fence. I’m glad he did – people decided it had to be cool if he wanted it [laughs].
Isn’t that what art is supposed to do? It should stir emotions.
Yes – exactly! The first tank car was pushing boundaries and the response to it was very weird. The first time I ever showed that car was at a big event in Southern California. Business as usual. Except that I’m at the show and I keep hearing people pounding on my car with their open hand – beating on it like a drum. I’m thinking, “What are you doing touching my car?
And not just touching, but hammering on the side of it.” This happened over and over again and I was going out of my mind. Then I realized it. Think of a four year-old. When they see something they’ve never seen before, they put their arms out and walk toward it and to touch it. Touching it is verifying it’s reality. I came to the conclusion that my cars turn adults into four year-olds. They are so far from what a '32 roadster is that they have to touch it to verify its reality.
Now I look it as a compliment, not as an insult.
All my cars get touched. The glass grill on the B702 was absolutely irresistible. You couldn’t stop people from touching it. I could put up signs and people would still touch it.
I love that my work speaks so loudly to people – be it at a gas station or people taking photos from passing cars. How do you refuse people the opportunity to look at something that fascinates them? I think how excited they are makes it impossible to be an asshole and say, “No, sorry, you can’t touch it. I’ve got to go. I’m in a rush.”
Life is short. Maybe this is the only time they’ll get to see something like it. I feel like some amazing performer because my art impacts people. It’s my responsibility to facilitate that joy and not take anything away from them. It was a great lesson.
I love your vision on art and the importance of stirring emotion. It is so valuable to produce work that will also face critique. Many automotive artists capture existing cars and create portraits. I think a true artist goes a step further and stirs a different emotion.
Have you been "stirred" by this blog? What is your vision on automotive art? Let me know and share your opinion.
On Randy his website you will find a lot more photos and videos on his car art.