Tony Crampton is a designer and an automotive artist. Living in Hong Kong, he likes to capture the character and feel of the streets. 'Art has to take you somewhere' says Tony.
When did you start to create art Tony?
Well I moved to Hong Kong in my thirties but I studied art at college in Durban, South Africa where I grew up. I studied Art and Design with the idea of getting into advertising which I am in. It was actually good grounding in art school because it gave me a touch of fine arts as well as design. The school had a famous member, Gordon Murray who became the F1 designer for McLaren. He was a few years ahead of me though.
I loved cars, I have all my life. My father was a pilot and worked for General Motors, so he would bring back a different car every weekend. That was an influence and I love motor sport as well.
When I was twelve, I went to see the Steve McQueen Le Mans movie and just fell in love with motor sports. For a petrol head, it’s a great movie and that was the golden era of motor racing and where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I see that a lot of artists seem to paint the 917 Porsche.
Yes, the 917 seems to be very popular amongst the artists which is only surpassed by the 911 of course. I think it has to do with the vibrant blue and orange gulf colour scheme.
Yes, it’s instantly recognizable and it evokes so many emotions when you see it because it just takes you straight back to that car and the era. I bought myself an old 911 here in Hong Kong which I run around in sometimes and belong to a Classic Car Club. The island I live on, doesn’t have any cars, so I have to take a bus to fetch my car. Sunday morning drives are quite big here when the roads are quiet. This is a very affluent city and full of exotic cars and you can sit in traffic jams and see all these exotic cars around you. So on Sunday people go out for a bit of a spin.
How did you develop your unique painting style Tony?
Well I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve found where I am artistically yet. Being in advertising, you can never go back with the same idea again. You have to have new approaches and new techniques and go back each time with fresh ideas. So I’m still searching really. I started off with a very traditional approach in some of my early work. I also believe that a painting should look like a painting, otherwise it’s a photograph of the car. I’ve always tried to bring a lot of expression to brush strokes and a real sense of movement. Then I started looking at computers for composition because it’s so much easier today with photoshop. That’s really taken me through to where I am now where I use thick acrylics and multi media with conté and pastel and pencil and photography. A lot of artists are doing it these days, combining these techniques. So I digitally manipulate them, make a montage and work on them. I find it quite inspiring and satisfying to do it that way.
A couple of years ago I was in London on a photoshoot and I went to the Modern Tate Gallery and saw work by Gerhard Richter, who actually uses really thick paint on photographs. I just saw that as a way of using and working with paint and photography together. If that is where I am going to end up, I’m not sure. I don’t want to have something that is repetitive every time. It needs to be different and I need to keep pushing and I’m still looking. I would like to take the car into a little more of the fine arts, rather than an illustrative representation of the car and that’s the challenge.
Does it mean that you take photographs of a car and then take that as the basis for your artwork, or do you paint something, take a photo and then combine it?
No, I usually take a photograph. I choose the angle and the proportion and then I degrade it and almost flatten it in the digital process in photoshop and use that to make a montage. Then I use the mixed media to build it up again, so that it takes it away from being a photographic image.
So you print the photo and then start painting on the print?
What I am doing now is a montage of photography which I build up digitally and once I am happy with it, I print it out and then I work on top of that. So it’s a combination of photography and mixed media. It’s how far you take it because I don’t want it to be a photograph but I need to bring it to life. I am currently working on a series for myself, using Hong Kong as a background and hopefully others will like it. Some of the streets here have a lot of character and some look a little bit dilapidated. I use that as a background and then in front of it, have these smooth lines of a classic car or perhaps a Porsche. So it’s that combination and the technique that work really well. In some cases, I’ve used the super structures of the high rises as well and created a unique Hong Kong series. I just wanted a subtle hint of Hong Kong and then I may just use the style of a doorway for instance. It makes it unique.
You said that you want to move more into Fine Art. That’s the challenge which so many automotive artists face today. What’s your take on that?
Art has to take you somewhere. So often a painting is just a painting of the car. So I try to bring a bit more story and value into it. It’s a challenge not to just do an illustration of the car but to capture an era and emotion with a hint of the story. It works better. Whether that’s a solution, I don’t know and I’m still exploring ways to evaluate cars.
Do you consider your art to be automotive art or Fine Art?
At the moment, I would call it automotive art. Some pieces I’ve really pushed and I think it’s more towards Fine Art. Not worrying about it looking too perfect. The proportions have to be right, with the right form and shape and you’ve got to be able to identify it but it’s perhaps the technique, having almost a disregard and letting the art take over. That’s the fine line. In advertising when we show a product, we make it look beautiful but when I do art, I want to make it great but at the same time make it an artistic piece and take it further than just perfection.
A lot of artists keep painting what the market asks for. Is that a dilemma for you, being in advertising?
It is. I love advertising and to me it’s the one profession where you can combine film, music, art, writing and technology and it’s all with a business intent. It combines all those elements and that’s why I love it. At the same time, you get to work with film directors, great photographers and illustrators, so it’s a great area for that. But it is a team effort, whereas when you get in front of a canvas, you are on your own. You get lost in that painting and the end result is purely yours and that’s equally as rewarding. But I do challenge myself and sometimes step back from thinking like an ad man and try to think more in terms of marketing and sales and an art person. That’s a dilemma.
You do a lot of Porsche. What is your relationship with that brand?
Well I bought a Porsche 911 about 15 years ago and I’ve always loved them, the lines, particularly the classic lines, they’ve got it spot on. The form, the shape, the whole design and concept of the 911. The emotions it’s had for fifty years. They are a great car to drive and it’s just such a powerful brand. Everything is so well thought through. In Hong Kong there are a lot of Porsches, so perhaps they are getting a little too mass now. But there’s a certain quirkiness to them too which gives them that appeal.
To see or buy Tony Cramptons’ work, visit his website.