How Gregory Whitt got Porsche to hire him and why he took three months to paint the Jaguar Leaping Cat.
Good morning Gregory, and thank you for agreeing to meet with me today. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve seen of your work and would love to hear more about your background.
Back in 1980 I worked for Porsche in Germany. Back then the 924 and the 928’s were out so we were designing the 944’s. I stayed there for 6 months. To tell you the truth of the matter I didn’t have much formal experience designing or sketches vehicles; I never went to school for design. I was just involved in artwork from an early age and have always loved cars.
Before I got that job, I had read an article about Tony Lapine in a car magazine. Tony was Chief Stylist and head of Porsche Style. He mentioned how grateful to the American automotive industry he was for all they did for him. I read an article about him and thought he might see some of himself in me. So, I decided to put together a portfolio and, for about a year and a half, I created and documented as much of my work as I could. Then I finally sent it over and – they hired me!
That’s an amazing story. You must have an incredible amount of determination to make that happen!
Yes, it really was a dream come true to get a job like that. And then to work at Porsche of all places. It was quite the awakening for me as the rest of the world is concerned. I grew up in Eastern Tennessee. I’ve been back here now since the death of my father three year ago. After Germany I applied for a job within Martin Marietta Aerospace in Florida. When I was hired, I moved out to Florida to work for them. Since, I’ve returned to Tennessee to take care of my mother. But boy, that was an experience – seeing the world for the first time like that.
Later on in my life I did a lot of freelance work for different automotive organizations. IMSA, back in the day, was international motor spots company, involved in projects like the 24-hour Daytona. I did design for them – souvenirs mostly, like t-shirts and caps – things to sell at the races. And then I worked for Winston, a tobacco company. I designed some of their transporters for them.
Designing big trucks with their large dimensions must be so different from working on paper.
It’s basically like working on a billboard, you know? [Laughs] Heck of a canvas. Anyway, I would design the paint scheme on paper and then use a projector to enlarge the image onto the side of the vehicle. Next, I’d trace the design in charcoal onto the truck itself. It would take between six and eight of us to paint it. That’s a lot of sign to do!
The first one I designed was the Skoal Bandit, driven Henry Gant, number 33. A friend of a friend saw an airbrushing of a Ferrari GTO that I did in his office. They asked for my information and then they asked me to paint a rig for them. Nowadays we use vinyl for that kind of work but back then we airbrushed everything. Trucks would be done in acrylic but the airbrushing was done in lacquer. I had to learn to use it – it’s very different from other paints like oil or acrylic. Airbrushing almost reminded me of watercolors in consistency but more opaque. It was a totally new technique and medium for me. That was something else.
After that I started doing all the Winston Cup stuff all across the United States. Indianapolis and Daytona 500. I’ve done basically all the tracks in the USA – clients will send me the photographs and information and then I would come up with some ideas and we collaborate on what they liked moving forward. As a kid I loved cars and getting to do stuff like this, as I got older has been amazing to continue working in this incredible industry. I’ve been fortunate to find work in a field that I’m passionate about.
Do you own a classic car?
MGB’s have been my favourite vehicle growing up. I’ve owned seven MGB’s myself. I don’t have them anymore – just sort of went through them growing up. Now I have a 1978 Chevrolet El Camino and a 1996 Pontiac Trans Am. But I’d have a lot more if I could afford to do it! I do the mechanics myself. You learn that when you own an MG. Back then I always used to work on my cars. Maybe it ran in the family. My brother restored British cars. He was an artist himself with what he could do with British cars until he died a few years ago. He did some really beautiful work.
Tell me about your current work. Are you working on anything big right now?
What I’ve got going right now is one of my brother’s 1964 Jaguar 3.8 litre S. I took a close-up of the hood and the grill. The painting size is 4’ by 5’ and I’m going that in oil. It is taking layers and layers. The hardest part of this will be painting raindrops, thousands of them, each by hand on it. It’s going to take me ages but when it’s done it’s going to be something.
A piece like this will take me about the three months. I’m just doing it for myself. I come up with some ideas and see what comes from them. What I hope to do with this is to go Jaguar International and see if they’d like to buy it and hang it in their corporate headquarters. It would also be great to get prints or something as well. I like to work on one major project at a time. Just something that piques my interest.
Cars are kinetic art. They are sculpture, really. Designers of cars are artists themselves. They use computers more these days for automotive design than they used to though. Computers are meant for finding information, not for creating art. I don’t want any part in that. I don’t use a computer for any of my art. I’m old school and that’s all there is to it. I don’t get the same satisfaction from a machine as I do from creating something myself, with my own two hands.
It is quite a decision to spend three months on one piece. How do you decide what you are going to work on next?
Well, they say the devil is in the details. But as far as I’m concerned, God is in the details. I absolutely adore them. If you look at the world around you, detail is absolutely everywhere and it is amazing. When I’m looking at nature, the beauty of what is there, in the minute details, is truly astronomical – a lot of people just flat miss that. In my art, I want to portray detail in a way that makes people want to look around and see it, to pay attention and appreciate the beauty of this planet we live on.
Take at the paint scheme of a car. Look at all the reflections of what’s going on around the car itself. Images and objects bend in the contours of the fenders or the wheels. The light provides incredible imagery. You wouldn’t believe the detail that is there. If you want to depict a car the way it’s supposed to be seen, you’ve got to pay attention to the light and reflection. Anyone who knows cars can look at your art and see that. Like I said, God is in the details.
How has your style developed over the years?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more patient and trained my eye to discern what is going on within a piece of art. Each and every area is a piece of art. They all have to be masterpieces to create great art. When it’s all said and done, you can say that you’re proud of it. I continuously want to raise the bar for myself.
I love large paintings because there is so much more room for detail. Not to mention it helps the viewer enter the work. For instance, do you recall the front grill of the 1955 Austin Heally 100-4? That’s another 4’ by 5’ painting. I use fine line tape when I paint different bars of the grill. It helps me ensure that each bar of the grill is as consistent as possible. Then I pull the tape off and blend the paint down.
I’ve been doing oil paintings mostly. I’d be interested in getting back into airbrushing but you need a compressor and other tools that I just don’t have right now. But it’s definitely on my mind for a future project.
How can we purchase art from you?
It’s all here with me! They’re for sale for the right price. Unfortunately, I’m not in a financial place to market myself right now. It’s very difficult to do on your own. As far as my work is concerned, it’s received greater reception in Europe more than anywhere else to be honest. It can be found for sale at www.automotiveart.com.
These days people want to be special and have unique art that nobody else has. What I’m trying to do is promote this type of art.
I absolutely love this idea. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’re Rembrandt. If nobody out there has seen your work, you’re just Rembrandt to yourself.
My work can be found on Automotive Artist and also on Vintage Racing Cars run by Stephen Page. I recently did a commission piece for Stephen – a Formula Atlantic.
I’d really love to continue to be a part of this CarArtSpot community. What you are doing is truly unique.
Thank you Greg for sharing your story.
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Note: all images copyright by Gregory Whitt
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