Stanley Wanlass - "I suppose that I’m a hopeless idealist & a romantic. My goal is to aesthetically improve what I can and share my subjective vision of beauty".
What is your story Stanley, how did you become an artist?
I’m just an ordinary guy who happens to seek beauty; no matter where it is found. I’m also constantly searching for truth; but that’s much harder to discern. I suppose that I’m a hopeless idealist & a romantic. My goal is to aesthetically improve what I can and share my subjective vision of beauty. I’ve always been an artist. When I was studying at the University in the late fifties and early sixties, it was almost impossible to make a living as an artist. Mark Rothko was probably one of the first artists to sell enough art not to starve in N.Y. in the early fifties. So to be practical, and in order to make a living, I went into my second interest which was medicine. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I finally came to the realization that my real love was the art and I didn’t care if I starved, I was going to follow my BLISS & my dreams as an artist. However, my sculpting & painting were immeasurably improved by my medical studies and made me a better artist and a broader human being. Also, to this day, I am creatively inspired (everyday) by my studies of Literature and Music.
I had come to the conclusion that for me. There is but one God - and his revealer is Art
Do you come from an artistic family?
Not really, with the exception of my Grandfather whom was an easel painter. My Mother was very artistic; but not in a conventional way. Indirectly my childhood naturally lead me toward artistic endeavors. During the 40‘s & 50‘s I loved working with my Dad helping with the assessment work at his mines located all around the west desert, the Henry mountains, the San Rafael Swell and the Thomas range. I was just a kid but my Dad put me in charge of the powder & blasting caps after they were flown to our sites in an old “Jenny” bi-wing which bounced over the sagebrush landing strip we had crudely made. The pilot’s name was “Old Blue”. His full name (I think) was Blue Archer. I did a painting of him and his plane near our sagebrush campfire. I still have that painting to this day. it’s very dear to me and I can’t bare to sell it although I have had many try to buy; while I do offer it as a Giclee’.
While combing the deserts I ran across numerous old cars that were all rusted out and unusable. One thing that fascinated me with these old wrecks was that they had this beautiful cloisonné emblem on the front of the radiator. I started to collect and catalog them wondering how many different ones that I could find and indeed, how many varied car companies there had been in America up to that time. Years later, when I was working on my Masters Degree, the emblems became a large part of my 500 page thesis on automotive design. Most experts at that time estimated that there were maybe 3000 to 5000 different individual car companies producing cars from 1900 to 1930 in America. My research revealed more than 12,000 during those years. My thesis has since been published by Dover Publications, New York. One of my Dad’s mining claims was near the Bonneville Salt Flats. I remember the very early hot rods during this period of time which I’m sure helped develop my love for racing from then until now. And, I was always sculpting and or painting automobile subjects during these years which lead to building real hot rods during the 50’s at my Father’s service station.
What sort of jobs did you have before coming an artist?
I taught at the University of Grenoble and the European Art Academy in France in 1966 and again in 1969 & 1970. I also taught for six years at Brigham Young University, then another ten or fifteen years at Colleges and Universities in Canada and Oregon. I was sculpting and painting full time even while I was teaching but when I decided to quit, it really left me much more time to create.
Cars are a recurring topic in your art, why is that?
My love for the Automobile and history have been paramount in my life and led to my passion for creating Historical Monuments and Automotive sculpture/paintings. I’ve always loved cars. I have built them and collected them all of my life. They are kinetic and to me they symbolize the ultimate expression of human FREEDOM. The Automobile was the only really new significant art form of the 20th century. For thousands of years’ man relied on the horse and wagon for transportation. Then this contraption comes along and revolutionized the world. This came about within my parent’s lifetime. This was an epic milestone. This and other significant automotive events should be celebrated as iconic in world history.
I have a world history chart on my wall that is 162 inches long. It represents the history of the world from 4000 years BC to present. The invention and history of the automobile is only the last 3 inches. What an impact the automobile has made in such a short period of time. My sculptures “SPIRIT OF MERCEDES” & “THE BENZ CENTENNIAL” are in celebration of this milestone. Another of my sculptures, “PASSING OF THE HORSE” represents the exact moment when this epic demise of the horse (for transportation purposes) came to pass. The Automobile, along with the computer are in my opinion, the two most significant things to have happened in the last century.
Your art shows a “Joy de Vivre”, enjoying life. Is that a reflection of who you are?
I’m mostly optimistic and try to have a positive & loving outlook on life. And yes, I like to hide little “pearls” or “treasures” of whimsy as well as poignant gems of wisdom in both my paintings and sculptures; only to be found by those who take the time to participate in the work. Some are nothing more than little visual “gems”, others are more serious. One example is a message in Latin that I hid in one of my Lewis & Clark Monuments, (“Clark’s Tree”) that expresses a question mankind has asked itself since the beginning of time. There has been a series of articles concerning this hidden message in the Seattle Times. So far, lots have searched but no one has discovered it.
Every person born to this world has God given gifts of genius (in varying degrees, of course) that are unique and different than anyone before or after him/her. None are the same... just as no two artists are equal in inspiration, technique, temperament or vision.
Too many artists believe they have to compete with other artists not realizing that it is impossible to compare. The truth is that each individual is so unique that they can only really be in competition with themselves. I prefer to start every creation with the end in mind. As I’m working toward my goal of creating the art it always evolves into something far better than my initial idea.
I would suggest to any artist, don’t be afraid to start. Then, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s all part of creating. Mistakes are part of the process and propel you faster and with more clarity and excellence toward the end result than by not making any mistakes at all.
It’s fun and exciting to see the results of your vision become a reality. It is very satisfying. But even more exciting is knowing that magic will happen as you are in the act of creating. You instinctively know that the process naturally evolves way beyond your initial vision... making the process a very satisfying and integral part of creating. Just as a writer must write about what he knows and loves; which is his passion; regardless of a scanty or critical audience, the artist must refuse to surrender the subject of his bliss in trade for the acceptance of the critics. Without choice, there is no creativity. Creation demands genuine diversity. It implies unity but not uniformity.
I take license with facts if it will help the composition. I change whatever I need to in order to establish a symbol. Facts bore me. I’m more interested in truth. I feel comfortable stretching history and condensing time and space bringing together a dramatic depiction of the spirit of the subject...a symbol, a gestalt, a truth. “Cold exactitude isn’t art, spirit and form are more important. Content and meaning are also important, however, form (structure) is the first consideration. Good design is the structure that supports the statement. If the form and statement successfully interact a symbol is born. It becomes more than the sum of its parts.
As I mentioned, an artist should be more interested in truth than fact, and not stunt intuition with reason. Jean Jacques Rousseau, the noted 18th century philosopher said, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
Is that also what you want to express with your artwork?
Yes, beauty as well as dignity & success through struggle. Man against the odds, and indeed, man & machine against the odds. Heroic and Epic deeds and the pursuit of excellence.
Another element seems to be your respect for the history of the United States, is this important for you?
I am very interested in the history of the United States but more importantly the history of the world. For example, the art history of Asia is so vast that most knowledgeable art historians refer to Europe and the rest of the world as “The small peninsulas of Asia”. I love many artists, writers, musicians and philosophers from all over the world; the United States being only a small part of my studies and appreciation. Some of my favorites are Michelle de Montaine, Shakespeare, Chopin, Beethoven, Peter Helck, Goethe, Walter Gotschke & Voltaire; not necessarily in that order.
The automobile, arguably had its birth in Germany and eventually came to America. Then, sports cars were developed in Italy, France & England and emanated to America. However, Hot rods are a purely American phenomenon having their birth here in the United States and are now represented in every socialized country in the world. I was lucky enough to be a part of this initial movement; having built numerous hot rods in the 1950‘s... and, still at it. My “Wanlass Windshield” that I designed and built (for 1932 -1934 Ford Roadsters) had its beginnings during this time. Now, it is also on hot rods in each of these countries. The altered windshield isn’t just about form, it’s about function. The chopped, laid-back windshield with a one inch radius cheats the wind. The aero look moves more efficiently through the air. This provides such advantages as better gas mileage, fewer bugs and less water & snow on the glass. Plus, the relative wind flows over the cockpit while racing burbles above the deck-lid instead of the cockpit, giving more traction to the rear drive wheels. This change in the lift/drag coefficient prevents the car from spinning at high speeds. Although I was very interested in efficiency and function, the real reason for designing and building this windshield was to make the car look downright nasty and mysterious, mean and enigmatic; giving the roadster a real attitude.
Which techniques do you use and are they unique?
The origin of bronze casting is shrouded in antiquity. It is a 6,000 (plus) year old process called Cire Perdue which is (French) from the Latin (Cera Perduta) currently called investment casting, lost wax casting or ceramic shell casting. Even though some modern materials and techniques are incorporated today, the lengthy process remains surprisingly similar and is very labor intensive. For my monuments, I begin with a relatively soft #2 clay that is sculpted over a stronger armature to ensure that it won’t collapse under its own weight (thousands of pounds). It is easier to move a soft clay over a large area than a more viscus clay or wax that is stiff and almost unmovable. For my smaller pieces I use a relatively hard (Victory Brown) microcrystalline wax (a petrochemical) that holds its configuration. I simply heat it to the consistency of clay while working. It turns hard again as it cools thus bypassing the need for an armature.
When I have completed my research and the labor of sculpting.......the sculpture (whether clay or wax) is then taken to the foundry where the molding and casting process takes place. After ten to fifteen weeks of work at the foundry, I heat the bronze and apply a chemical patina. Or, sometimes I paint (polychrome) the bronze. I typically use acrylics, oils, egg tempera and or enamels. After painting, I remove (through an ageing process) as much paint necessary to prevent the paint from looking like an apology for the bronze.
You can find a video of the lost wax casting process here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdTM5rSSJjk (not related to Stanley's work).
What inspires you to start a specific artwork?
That’s a hard question to answer as it depends upon whether I’m working on a commission or following my own creative inspiration. It has to be emotionally positive rather than negative. And, can’t have a derogatory presence without dignity. It has to be uplifting to carry the spirit of the viewer to a higher state; as in inspirational music or thought. Does not have to be religious, but must be spiritual and visually excite the senses. That way I can have a passion for and accept the commission as my own.
That’s why I typically create my own ideas. Although I do love the challenge of making a commission my own. I am inspired to create through Music, Poetry, Literature, History, extraordinary feats by ordinary people and inspiration from unusual beauty. Also, ideas and concepts that transcend myself and need to be out there to inspire others, now and in perpetuity; giving purpose and beauty to life. Hopefully I’ll be able to leave the world a better and more interesting place than prior to my life here.
Over the last eight years I have been participating with and creating for Utah Fast Pass, eight paintings over eight years. Each summer we have from forty to sixty super-cars come from all over the world. We start out with a day at Miller Motor-sports track, then take a thousand mile run through the Red Rock country of Utah culminating in a Concours d’Non Elegance (exhibit of all cars with dirt & bugs) at the Grand America where we have a Gala Dinner & Auction. 100% of the funds go to 16 charities such as crippled children, Navajo Christmas, fallen Highway Patrolman’s families, etc. I donate a painting each year that is used for the route book covers, posters, advertisements and eventually, sold at auction to help fund the charities mentioned. There is much inspiration not only of speed and sound but the shapes and colors of the cars and the beautiful surrounding are beyond an artist’s dreams. Also, my love of history got me involved in creating four major Heroic Lewis & Clark Monuments on the Oregon and Washington Coast for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial from 1982 through 2002.
What does your studio look like?
Oscar Wilde would say that it looks a lot like a “Picture of Dorian Gray”. A mess! But an organized mess. Yes, I do file many things, but I need specific items all in one place at one time when I’m creating. My biggest frustration is to not be able to find a specific item when I need it. If I file it, I might as well throw it in the trash. It needs to be in a stack that I’m familiar with.
What are you most proud of?
My best creations are my children; which I couldn’t have produced or been successful (as well as my career) without my lovely & talented wife Joy! Actually, she does most of the work and I take the credit. Being a part of the “rebirth of Automotive Art” The resurgence of the art that formed around the invention of the automobile in 1885; only with a difference........
There was no “Car Art” when I was growing up; to my knowledge I was the only one doing it. There were no automotive fine artists except those involved in automobile advertising or automotive designers. There were a couple of exceptions to this such as Peter Helck (born in 1893) & Walter Gotschke (born in 1912) who were products of the birth of the automobile and its exciting freshness. And, a few automotive designers who were looking for a way to break away from the car companies and start painting for themselves. Many of these fine artists became the bulk of what was to become the Automotive Fine Arts Society who solidified and legitimized this important movement.
In the late seventies or very early eighties Charlie Schalebaum (who was a New York Agent) saw one of my ads showing some of my automotive sculptures that I had put in a national magazine. He called and asked to represent me; which started a 40 year relationship as my agent. Ten years earlier Joy & I had lived in New York City where Joy was modeling for Francis Gill Agency. Too bad I hadn’t met Charlie then while in New York. Maybe Automotive Art would have been launched ten or so years earlier. I owe so very much to Charlie as he had an established world-wide clientele which helped me immeasurably.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on several projects. Automotive Art: “Horse Play” (early automotive toys) on the automotive design I am continuing with the Wanlass Windshield (1932 Ford Roadster), (1934 Ford Roadster), I am currently in the planning stages of a 40 foot "SEAFARERS MEMORIAL" that will be placed at the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River near the tip of the Astoria, Oregon Peninsula: www.seafarersmemorial.com simply click and scroll down for photos and information.
The City of Astoria and the Port of Astoria, plus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working in concert to make this monument a reality. They are currently in the planning stages of building an island with pilings and structures to hold the finished memorial. The Riverfront Trolley will have a 'trolley stop' at the walkway (land-bridge) leading to the island and monument which is adjacent to the West-end Mooring Basin Marina and the docks where the Corps of Engineers dredge the shipping channel. The channel allows all incoming and outgoing ships (the maritime commerce of the world) to come within a few yards of the monument; including huge cruise ships from various parts of the world which dock within a few feet of the memorial.
What is your advice for people who want to become an automotive artist?
I would ask, “Where were you when I needed you back when I was trying to put together a market for Automotive Art.” I had to recruit my artist friends and convert them to automotive art (just to make a market). Then, not too much time passed until the Automotive Fine Arts Society (AFAS) got started; which really helped to legitimize the Automotive Art scene. Unfortunately, for a while it seemed as though we had been too successful in recruiting and it attracted some mediocre talent. But the market soon separated the serious and talented from the opportunist. There is however, always a prominent place for genius when it comes to the ever changing face and excitement of new innovations and different avenues of artistic statements.
Another suggestion to the prospective Automotive Artist: Your second thousand drawings, paintings or sculpture will be better than the first thousand. And, to always being sensitive, observant and aware. Michelangelo said, “Some people are nothing more than passages for food; producers of excretions”.
I would say to any artist: Plan, Simplify & Be Strong! Simplicity is Power. Our dignity lies not in who we are or what we do, but in what we understand. Understanding usually only comes in retrospect. An artist asks the world questions and the world replies, “I hear you and I answer that I cannot answer; you must find out for yourself.” Then as the artist creatively expresses understanding, the resulting message becomes art.
It is unfortunate that all too frequently the most gifted never do much to develop their talents to excellence. It comes too easily, so they just slide along, unconcerned. It is the B student that tries and works unceasingly harder that ultimately become the creative heroes of this world. Monet said, “Things that come too easily disgust me”. Hemingway said of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly anymore because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless. So, not all great artists are strong & sure of themselves. How do you judge the most fragile among us? It is the finest blades that are most easily blunted, bent or broken. Some artists are too fragile & vulnerable to be judged openly.
Eagles don’t chase butterflies. Follow your Bliss
Do you have any advice for people who want to buy automotive art or start a car art collection?
Yes, give me a call! [laughs]. Collect only what speaks to you spiritually, it must feed your soul. Don’t buy for investment, you may own it for a long time.
If thou of fortune be bereft, and in thy store there be but left two loaves, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul. John Greenleaf Whittier.