This painting, which I’ve called “Low Flyers”, had been festering in my mind for some time before I was able to capture it on canvas. I knew it had to be imposing and I wanted it to take the viewer through a varied range of emotions. The canvas needed to be large to make an impact not only when viewed but I wanted it to be ‘heard’ too. So deafening yet so humbling that it almost falls silent, begging the question, if a young girl screams excitedly but no one can hear her, does she actually make a noise? I chose a 2ft by 3ft canvas and had to force myself to find enough time to put aside to create this piece. This decision was helped along by my family telling me that putting it on hold was starting to affect my commissioned work and I was also becoming impossible to live with! Incentive enough!
Canvas primed and eagerly grabbing my oils and brushes I was ready to capture the feeling of speed and raw overwhelming power.
So here it is. Just as the boys and the girl think they’ve reached the edge of a full adrenalin rush in their hot rods suddenly from nowhere comes the almighty sound and overpowering presence of a B17 Flying Fortress bomber accompanied by a P51 Mustang and a P47 Thunderbolt!
Beatty, Death Valley was still holding on to us, this time in the form of a man with a bucket of Coke, a straw and what seemed to be a comic wrapped car. The man was artist David Ohlerking and the car a Ford Crown Victoria, his mobile studio, the paintwork however is a forever evolving masterpiece, the creations of curious small children who have gathered over the years to watch David paint and have asked if they could have a go too, they get free rein on the car.
David has travelled the world extensively through his life. A professional musician and later an artist, he has happily scoured the streets of the US with his mobile studio parking up whenever the mood takes him. He recreates street scenes with oils on canvas that you just want to step into. Turns out Beatty and it’s people have stolen a piece of his heart too, on meeting him he was the new artist in residence at Goldwells Museum in Rhyolite a ghost town just outside Beatty, He was living in an RV behind the main building and was looking to move there on a more permanent basis.
One of the things that I loved about the USA was that if you take the time out to talk to a stranger they are very accommodating and always seem to have an interesting story to tell.
After buying my very own bucket of Coke we tried to say our goodbyes to David.
“You can’t leave yet, you need to go and check out Rhyolite and the museum” We learnt that Goldwells is an outdoor museum, the wonderfully bizarre collection is the work of a group of Belgian artists.
He suggested Ian could be their next resident artist, and we too could live in an RV behind the museum! He was insistent we head down there to check the place out and to speak to his friend about the residency. He gave us his contact and told us to stay in touch. What an inspirational guy and after checking out his website, life story etc he is somewhat of a celebrity. What an honour!
We headed out of Beatty but not on the 95 to Vegas, back into Death Valley to the Ghost Town that is Rhyolite and Goldwells Museum. 5 miles of mostly long, empty straight road. Today’s choice of CD was Santana and right now it was giving us some “Soul Sacrifice”.
“Our new address could be Ian Guy, RV, Ghost Town, Death Valley”
“Do you think he was serious?”
“He seemed genuine, nice guy I thought”
The sun was so hot and it’s rays so bright on the car that they were casting strong reflections. The sandy track to Rhyolite was difficult to see, it could almost have been part of a mirage, we took the turning right and drove blind through an almost heavenly spotlight, a suitable entrance to a spectacularly spooky showcase. We pulled up to park and switching off the engine and music was like turning off the soundtrack to the world .The silence that is Death Valley hit us again, that together with the far reaching views of the desert we both strangely shed a silent tear. We were alone, or at least we thought so.
“Is that a reinterpretation of the last supper over there?” I asked
“I think it is” Ian replied
We both swore.
The forms were life size and set on a wooden plinth, beautifully eerie against the back drop of the desert. Ghostly, in that each seemed to be a shroud cast around a human form.
Some way over to the right was a separate piece, he was alone, same shroud cast, he had a bike, but I think the bike had a problem, whatever his story he wasn’t happy. I’m no art critic so I will let the photos do the talking and you can make up your own minds
David’s friend had put a ‘Back soon‘ sign on the door of his cabin, so we put our business card in a belt loop of a pair of Daisy Duke shorts that had been nailed to a post, and we turned to leave.
“Blows your mind dun’t it!” a younger couple, obviously English and most certainly northern were stood some way behind us checking out a giant mosaic sofa. Turns out he was from the same town I grew up in. Once we had established our joint love of pie and gravy, paused for a while in a Northern Chip Shop stupor we moved onto stories of our separate road trips. The pie and gravy seed however had been planted and it affected all rational thinking over the next few days!
These guys had been in the U.S for a couple of months already and I can only explain their way of getting around and enjoying themselves as binge travelling in that they will hire/buy bikes (the pedal type) camp in the desert for a week or so or until they run out of resources then hire a top of the range vehicle and stay somewhere exceptionally exclusive for a few days. There was no vehicle that I could see right then in that car park but they too were heading for Vegas, they had booked a suite in the Palazzo and were offering us a room for our stay. They tried to convince us that they would be in Vegas by the end of the day , it was all said in jest but they did indeed arrive in Vegas a day ahead of us, but right then at that moment we were on a mission to see who could get there first and I was on a much more important mission to find real English Northern gravy! We swapped contacts and finally left Beatty and Death Valley on US Route 95 to Vegas, 117 miles of desert road.
Santana was still in the player, and it just worked with the road like it was meant to be. We were silent for almost 40 miles of long straight dusty bliss, eventually pulling over at the Area 51 Alien centre, Rocket Diner and Brothel. One building incorporating all three! a door leading from the back of the everything that you could possibly imagine alien themed store into a traditional American Diner and if you have the time, energy or the inclination you can head on through to Sci Fi themed fun out the back !
Although brothels are legal in some parts of Nevada, they are strictly regulated and apparently only operate in isolated rural areas.
We hadn’t seen any signs to say that it was there but I had been chatting to the very nice man on the front desk who was filling me in on the story behind the idea for the place and its founder.
The conversation between Ian and myself in the store afterwards.
Ian said “I gotta buy this 2ft rubber Alien”
“And what about this T shirt? I like the bunnies.”
“It’s advertising a Brothel, The Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City.”
“Yes, there’s one back there too, through the diner”
“It’s got a Sci Fi theme”
“No way, sexy aliens??!!”
“More of your Star Wars characters I think with a bit of Avatar thrown in”
At this point we see a very cute older couple walking hand in hand out of the diner with the biggest of smiles. They had picked up on our English accent and asked where we were heading and suggested that we could go out back and build our own English breakfast muffin!
We bought an ice cream and sat on the front veranda wondering if we might get a glimpse of Darth Vader maybe heading in for the night shift!
Planting a Gravy Tree and getting a Mountain.
Back on the road, and around 80 miles from Vegas, choice of CD was our own compilation. First song “Holiday Road” 1983 single written and recorded by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, such a feel good song. After 30 miles I noticed the landscape was changing, nothing dramatic at first but more prominent mountains were starting to appear on the horizon to the right of us. After a while I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a huge mountain some distance away or something smaller and closer.
“Hey Ian, that mountain over there has got snow on its peak”
“Really? I think it’s just reflection, it’s 95 degrees out there”
“It’s really high, and what would it be reflecting?”
“How far away do you think it is?”
“20, maybe 25 miles? Shall I take the next right turn?”
“Yeah take it, they might have gravy?”
“Whoever is at the top where it’s snowing, gravy or casserole”
We turned right a few miles down and I got out the map.
I turned to Ian.
“Ok Mount Charleston standing at 11,916ft, I don’t think there is any chance of us getting lost, this road takes us up to the peak and we can either come back this way or it joins up to another road in a kind of loop and works it way back down to join the 95 not far out of Vegas. Hey Ian”.
“I can see people skiing! Oh and reindeer, elves, Santa, I can see Christmas!”
There are some tight bends on the road to the peak and yes it was about 25miles, the temperature dropped from 95 degrees to 57 and the scenery was spectacular. A view point some way up let us see the expanse of the desert below us. I had wondered if it would have been possible to see Vegas from the peak seeing as we were so close but it didn’t happen, from the opposite end though it is apparently possible to see the mountain from some points on the strip. It was reminding me of parts of Austria I had been to but on a much larger scale. Impressive log houses, beautifully designed and perched high on mountain ledges.
It was getting later in the day and Ian pulled into the car park of The Mount Charleston Lodge and Cabins. We could see just a few rental cabins from the road and were expecting them to be fully booked.
Ian said “Shall we stay the night?”
“It looks a bit exclusive, bet it’s expensive”
$120 dollars for the night, taking into consideration the exchange rate at the time and the price of a room in a standard B+B in the UK it was more than worth it.
We were given a map and our key and as we stood on the edge of the car park we looked down onto the roofs of the other cabins and we made our descent.
I’ve seen that this place has been left some bad reviews by American tourists but I have stayed in so called log cabins in Disneyland Paris, and some in the UK. They are mostly wooden clad static caravans at twice the price! This place was perfect, one large main room with a huge central log burner, gas, on a timer so it was lit for our arrival, a large window and door opposite the entrance, a balcony with fantastic views and a double swinging seat. The bed was huge and of course the large bubbling jacuzzi by its side. Unfortunately there hadn’t been any snowfall, but it was forecast over the coming week.
That night we ate too much, drank too much, and stayed in that jacuzzi until we actually squeaked! I thought it was just a saying but I was still squeaky I’m sure when we arrived in Monument Valley a few days later!!
We made our descent from the mountain the next morning after breakfast in the restaurant next door, and were back on the 95 around thirty minutes later, further down the road and very close to Vegas and it was hot!!
“By the look of the map, you just carry on along the 95 and it takes you straight into Vegas” I said
“Ok” Ian said.
We waited for that sign, you know the one, but nothing was “Welcoming us to Vegas” and Vegas wasn’t particularly welcoming.
“We’ve gone wrong somewhere Ian”
“Was thinking the same”
“This is kind of rough”
I was starting to feel a bit uneasy. We had bought an American Sat Nav in the UK and we decided to use it for the first time.
It was a woman’s voice and she was terribly excitable. Like she hadn’t been out of that box for years and when she realised she was going to Vegas was hardly able to control herself.
We set off,
“Go Straight” She said
“At the next junction go straight”
We were in the middle of a three lane carriageway.
“Ian this car at the side of me (Black Range Rover with completely blacked out windows) is driving really close to my window, we’ve almost touched a few times, he’s swerving in and out”
“Yeah I’ve seen, I have got the same going on my side with an identical Range Rover, every time I speed up or slow down so does he, in fact it’s going on both sides. Looks like they’re together”
“What the f**K”
“I don’t know”
At this point I almost leave my seat and end up on the bonnet of the car!
“What are you doing?”
“Braking!” another one, identical, had just pulled straight in front of us! “Have you seen the number plate?”
“THE FIRM! haha, some kind of joke, we are in Vegas”
This went on for a few more minutes, both cars on either side swerving inwards missing us by inches each time with the one in front determining our speed.
“Ian they either think we are the Queen and this is some kind of royal escort Vegas style, or we’re in trouble” He subtly flicked the central locking switch.
In the meantime Sally had gone into Sat Nav Breakdown.
Make a U turn where possible was on repeat!!
Just when I was wondering if it would have been a better idea to stay in bed, at the next junction the car in front wheel spun off the lights and disappeared into the distance, the car on my side turned right, Ian’s took the left turning and yes all had matching number plates, we were out of the city. To this day I still have no idea where we went or what happened and why.
“Ian lets pull over”
“Just to try and work out what happened, where we are, and let’s put bloody Sally back in her box she’s lost the plot”!
I carried on “That was weird, let’s get out of here, shall we use the Sat Nav on our phone”?
“OK, but where are we going?”
“Welderup baby, Sin City Motors, they’re just outside of Vegas I’ve put the address in the phone already”
And thus we woke up Patricia via Samsung a really expensive way to get around we discovered when we got our next phone bill, it was Sunday and she was pretty Chilled.
“Ok guy’s, I can sense tension in the air” she rose from her lounge chair and floated over to the patio window staring out at the view of the wonderfully changing colours of the English countryside in the autumn. She leaned over and stubbed out her cigarette on the edge of a large vintage oak table.
“Welderup, don’t worry you’re going to be fine with me, you are in safe hands”. Sure enough twenty-five minutes later we were parked outside the large metal gates of Ian’s latest man crush and all of his fabulous toys.
A little explanation, at the end of April 2014 TV trailers on UK Dave Channel were advertising the start of a new series of shows “Sin City Motors” filmed at their Car Customization shop “Welderup” in Las Vegas where Steve Darnell is the mastermind behind every creation, and together with his truly talented team of welder fabricators, engine builders and an artist they will take on any challenge and bring any vision to life!
So by May 2014 the tension was quietly building in our house and Ian was more than ready for the first episode of the show, and after speaking to like minded friends they were too. I missed the first part of the first episode, don’t get me wrong I love the cars and what these guys do but I was just going to let him fill me in with the details.
Ian watched the first part of the first episode up in his studio, I was in the lounge. After around fifteen minutes he came down the stairs so quickly I thought he may have just thrown himself down or rolled.
He burst in “You have got to switch channels, it’s the break, you’re not watching anything in particular are you?”
“No not really”
“Watch it with me and tell me what you think, it’s unbelievable”
“Just watch, you can’t miss it, it’s almost unreal”
So the show comes back on and Ian’s eye’s are on me then back on the TV then back to me.
“Oh” he says
“What?” I say
“They’re not as impressive on this TV, still really beautiful but not the same”
“Steve Darnell’s eye’s, absolutely stunning on my TV!”
I had to agree he did have very pretty eyes. And there we were five months later parked outside his front gates and I was about to look directly into those beautiful blue eyes and strike up a conversation with him about his life, work, kids and his relationship with his brother and his dad ……….
Alien Abduction, California Dreaming and an Ice Awakening – by Mandy.
Around 35 years ago between a pile of books and a brick wall Ian and I made a pact to sometime between then and the end of our days find and drive the longest straight road in the world. A few years later through a massive misunderstanding we went our separate ways. 20 years on we were back in each other lives examining what had been, what could have been, and what was, and when things kind of settled we started again to talk about that long straight road. Strangely at this point of massive highs together with equally traumatic lows we both thought it might be nicer to walk the road, just keep going. 20 years all of a sudden seemed more like 2 and things needed to just take on a slower pace. Then we woke up and smelt the burnout!!
Mid Summer 2014 we booked our flights to San Francisco leaving from London Heathrow the last week in September . Here’s a list of some of the reasons why we choose the USA.
In no particular order.
With the exception of a stretch of Highway 10 in Saudi Arabia and Australia’s Eyre Highway the majority of long straight roads seem to be confined mainly to Canada and North America.
A lot of the early inspiration behind some of Ian’s paintings came from his obsession with American TV shows and movies. The cars, and the long straight dusty roads, a means to an escape.
We were told we “Needed to go” by customers, friends, an older lady flying a kite on a beach and a member of the 90’s band steps. Apparently it’s addictive and we would be doing a deal with the devil for the funds to make a return trip.
When I was four or five years old I was a bus driver and started a regular route from the bottom of our stairs at home to ‘merica. Took my sisters doll along for the ride once, she got broken so I left her at a bus stop in LA.
When I was 24 and pregnant with Lucie I ditched the bus driving and made a pact that when Lucie turned 16 we would travel the US on a Harley. Things didn’t quite pan out that way but when Lucie turned 24 she hired an RV and drove the east coast from New York to Key West. She dropped the RV in Miami after a month giving her two more months to explore the whole of the US. She had no real plans apart from telling us that she would see us somewhere on the West Coast mid to late October and “ You WILL be there!!”
Initially we were going for two weeks. This is what happened.
“So Ian give me a list of places you want to visit and I’ll see if I can fit them into some kind of roadtrip”
“Sorry, can’t think of anywhere off the top of my head”
“Really !! here’s a piece of paper, when you think of somewhere just write it down”
“Trevor loves the Florida Keys”
“Ok” I explained “He does but we’re flying into San Francisco”
“San Francisco, so we will be driving the Pacific Highway maybe down to LA and onto Route 66. We’ll have to do Monument Valley, and we’re going to be in the Country for Speed Week at Bonneville !! Ermmm New Orleans, Area 51, the Meteorite place, Nashville, Alabama, Georgia. Somewhere where we might be abducted by aliens ! Lets go storm chasing ! And we need to sit on a horse on that rock, wherever that is. Vegas ! We could get married” !!!
“Is that a proposal?”
“Yes, Welderup!! you know Sin City Motors, you can just drop in on those guys if they’re not filming. Hey what about where American Graffiti was filmed ? or Bullit ? Elvis?”
“Yeah would you want to see Elvis stuff?”
“We might need to add another week”
We sold our souls, some gold bullion and a large ornament that had been gathering dust on top of the wardrobe, rearranged our life and added another three weeks !
We broke the news to my parents, and after establishing that dad wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, he wanted the obligatory contact address and telephone number of where we would be staying. Something he asked of every family member when we are away for longer than a few days.
Conversation with him…………
Me “We’re not going to be in one place for longer than a couple of nights and we’ll be away for almost 6 weeks”
“Oh Bloody Hell”
“What about if we call you every couple of days and let you know where we are?”
“Oh no you don’t want to be doing that”
“Every Week ?”
“No you don’t want to be doing that cost a bloody fortune”
“ If you can get to a computer I could video call you?”
“No, bloody computers, it’ll be alright, you’re alright”
“What about facebook, we’ll put photo’s up of the places we are staying and you can check them out on people’s computers or phones at your leisure either with family or even down the pub?”
“Aye, that sounds your best bet, let’s do that”
So from there we religiously uploaded photos at the end of EVERY DAY of our trip! explaining where we were, and what we had been up to. Turns out dad couldn’t be doing with the ‘Bloody computers’ so he didn’t see any of it!! What did happen though, strangely, we gained a kind of following through facebook. People here in the UK were waking up to our posts and pics and actually enjoying ‘Traveling’ with us. The comments and ‘likes’ increased as we moved from State to State, it was bizarre but amazing at the same time. People were suggesting we need to write some kind of blog when we got back, dad told me I should write a diary of our trip as a memory, I just laughed. This was almost three years ago, things have changed, dad is no longer with us, he sadly passed away in July of last year. He had his own hopes and dreams, a bucket list of places he wanted to visit. I’d like to think he’s on his own road trip now, without a care, able to travel freely without hindrance and in whichever way he chooses.
People still comment on old photos from then and ask when the blog will be ready, magazines have asked for an article (Yeah I know weird) and Ian is constantly asking me to write something for the blog on his website to keep it ‘Alive’. I struggle to keep the coriander alive in a pot on the kitchen window sill!!
So after a lot of moaning, because that’s what I do, here it is almost three years too late
Alien abduction, California Dreaming and an Ice awakening.
We drove around 9000 miles in total in almost 6 weeks. Hundreds of miles of long straight roads.
The day before we flew out I became ill and slept through a lot of the Pacific Highway and Californian coast . What I did see wasn’t at all as I had imagined. Somehow I had visions of girls in hot pants, roller blades and beach volleyball but the few hundred miles from San Francisco to LA included some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen, often deserted beaches with craggy rocks and beautifully rugged coast lines. Speed Week had been cancelled due to flooding which gave us some time to drive back up the Pacific highway at the end of our holiday, fully awake I was able to take in all of it’s glory then.
When I woke up properly for the first time we were heading inland toward the Nevada state line on the third or fourth day and had picked up a part of Route 66 heading for Barstow. The plan was at that time to head north to Wendover for The Salt Flats and Speed Week with a stop over in Beatty Death Valley for a couple of nights. We pulled over at a gas station and I went into the store while Ian filled the tank. This was the first time I had noticed we were actually in a pretty cool car , gunmetal grey Mustang with hardly any miles on the clock. Great guy at Avis had offered us an upgrade for an extra 2 dollars a day. We left the store with some sausage, potato salad, cold drinks, bread, wine, beer, cooked meats and a small fridge made of polystyrene!
This is what happened….. Beautiful older lady, possibly early seventies, long plaited hair , looked kind of native american.
“That’ll be $76.25cents, and ya’ll be needin some ice for ya cooler” She looked at Ian.
“Ya’ll be findin it right out back there, ya got a 10 pound bag an’ a 15 pound bag”
Ian, whilst doing some weird hand signals similar to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ asked
“How big is the 10 pound bag?”
Nice older lady, in a slow drawl.
Nice older lady then turned to me and held my gaze for a few seconds, no words were needed.
Back on the road and heading for Death Valley, night seemed to happen at the same time as the road signs gave up together with buildings, people, cars and street lights. It was 8.30pm and the outside temperature was 94 degrees, we pulled over and got out of the car. It was pitch black and the silence was like nothing I had experienced before, the air was hot and still. It was unbelievable and grounded is the best word I can think of to explain how I felt at that moment, grounded and wondering if the car would start up again and did we have any signal on the phone.
We set off again with the engine noise breaking the silence and a bright light appeared in the sky directly ahead of us, after a few minutes we noticed the outside temperature had dropped dramatically and the car seemed to be struggling, loosing power. Five minutes along and the light was getting brighter, It was still directly ahead, I turned to Ian
“You should be careful what you wish for”
He knew exactly what I was saying, we were going to be abducted by aliens!!
The temperature outside had dropped from 94 to 78 degrees and the light in the sky was getting brighter. Another five minutes and we were wondering if we should stop? and then what, just give ourselves up? The light shifted, the temperature dropped to 63 degrees and the car seemed to have picked up a noise, and it was getting louder, the light had dropped and was somehow casting shadows on the road, it was dazzling, in our faces and then it passed by the side of us and was gone. The light and noise now belonged only to the Mustang and the back lights of the other car disappeared into the distance in the opposite direction.
We had been on the longest straight road we had probably ever travelled, we had been climbing for some time and were completely clueless!! we had a fridge, a 10 pound bag of ice, were half way up a mountain and it was cold. The appearance of a road sign told us how many feet above sea level we were and to beware of falling rocks 4 times the size of your car! I also wondered if the appearance of a road sign meant the re appearance of buildings and people.
I had booked 2 nights at the Atomic Inn in Beatty and that’s where we met the owner Chris, a musician from Texas. We fell in love with Death Valley, Beatty and Chris. After the second night I asked him if we could possibly book one more night, he didn’t answer immediately just gazed at me like the nice older 10 pound bag of ice lady.
“You know if you book another night you’ll never go home”
Now even though I had become very fond of Chris in that short time, I wasn’t sure at this moment if this was some kind of a threat. He continued…..
“I came here from Texas to visit my sister in 2006, only supposed to stay a couple of nights an’ well here I am, it happens all the time, this place has something special”
The initial idea had just been to use the quirky inn as a stop over, I hadn’t done any research on the area, the word Death had distracted me from the next word so I was surprised to find Beatty is quite elevated the most populated area being 3,307 ft above sea level in comparison to Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park which is the second lowest point in the Western hemisphere at 282ft below sea level, and it’s hot down there!
Beatty has a population of 1010 people, it’s simple and unassuming and when you pull up in your car on one of the many areas of wasteland to check out a whole range of disused vehicles and farm machinery people appear from nowhere, are very accommodating, and everything is for sale.
It was late by the time we had checked in on the first night and we asked Chris if there was anywhere we could grab something to eat.
“Yeah, just there over the road at the Sourdough Saloon it’s my sister’s place”
“Great what time does she close?”
“Whenever you leave, if that’s 4 in the morning then so be it”
We found the whole of Beatty to be just as laid back as Chris, and right then I was ready to move in with either him or his sister but with Route 95 passing through the centre you couldn’t help but notice the almost continuous stream of RV’s heading in both directions, just passing through kicking up dust, and I needed to find out where they were heading.
On the first morning we sat at a window seat in Mel’s Diner eating Steak for Breakfast! together with pancakes, eggs, bacon and biscuits with gravy!! we were served by what looked very much like the sister of the 10 pound bag of ice lady , and we watched the trucks and the travel trailers just rolling on by.
I noticed a couple of real hardcore bikers eating at the other side of the diner. The type you see in American movies. I had to go and speak to them. Now we had been told that most Americans love an English accent, that it may be mistaken for Australian but they will hold a conversation just to listen to you speak. I was looking forward to this but from the outset, with a few exceptions, nobody had a clue what I was saying and the more I tried to be understood the more I started to sound like the posh English girl that dated Ross in the TV series Friends! These guys were no exception, but they were great and again very accommodating. They were from Vegas and regularly travel the 120 miles just to have breakfast at the diner, they gave us tips on places to visit locally and directions on how to get there using Whore houses as landmarks!
Death Valley is the largest U.S. National Park outside Alaska at 3.4 million acres and Straddles the border of California and Nevada. Drought and record summer heat, rare rainstorms and winter snow make it a land of extremes.
What struck me was the amazing formations of rock and the incredible rainbow of colour which spans through them apparently formed “when volcanic rocks deep underground interacted with hydrothermal systems to form concentrated mineral deposits” Don’t hold me to that though.
Pull over and park anywhere in Death Valley and if you’re alone the silence will possibly be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. That together with the vast open spaces just blew my mind.
On the first day we drove a large loop, three roads if I remember that joined to take us back to where we had started. The first time we had driven a long straight road in daylight and we broke the silence after an hour or so in the form of Deep Purple blasting from the car stereo, the beginning of ‘Child in Time’ synchronized perfectly with the start of the straight and ended as we took a left hand bend pulling over onto a patch of wasteland. We realised we hadn’t spoken for about ten minutes, the sun was going down and the sky was a fantastic blend of purples, dark and light strangely similar to the ‘Deepest Purple’ album cover. An almost heavenly spotlight shed a suitably spooky light on quite an eerily majestic piece of Spanish looking architecture, it felt like the middle of nowhere . We discovered later that the building we were looking at was actually The Amargosa Opera House, because of the lack of cars and people we assumed it was a derelict building. It is actually a fully functioning motel with the most fantastic history. Ian turned off the engine of the car and we both breathed out and swore.
On our last day in Beatty and Death Valley we said goodbye to Chris and a few of the locals who we had met during our stay came to wave us off from his front porch. As we drove away I remember feeling as if I was saying goodbye to old friends and knowing I will definitely visit Beatty again probably book in for four nights and take it from there.
It was around this time that we had discovered through facebook the extent of the flooding on the Salt Flats, the poor guys who were already parked up on the Salt in their RV’s, Trucks & Trailers etc slowly sinking, and the announcement that the event had been cancelled. Once we had processed, understood and accepted the enormity of what that meant, not just for us but for so many others, we checked the map and decided to head south-east and take the 95 to Vegas. We thought we would do a last tour of Beatty and stopped off at an antique store we had somehow missed previously. We met a girl named Christie.
Christie was really helpful and very chatty she asked where we were heading and we told her we were on our way to Vegas. We didn’t have any plans when we got there and hadn’t booked accommodation. She told us she had lived a couple of years in tunnels under the Strip. She said things had gotten out of hand “Folks used to look out for each other” . She had left 6 months earlier and was now living in a purpose built shelter 65 miles west of Vegas in Pahrump, she said she felt safe and she was happy. I don’t know if we looked a little bit worse for wear that day but she suggested we stay away from taking refuge for the night in the tunnels under the strip and offered us a safe place in the shelter in Pahrump. I could have listened to her stories for hours, we left Beatty 3 hours later taking the 95 to Vegas our next port of call but things didn’t quite go how we had expected ……….
Quite often when we are trading at shows people will ask us what Ian gets up to when we aren’t at an event? What happens on a daily basis? What is a day like in the life of an artist? Sometimes I will be asked what part I play, what is it like “Living with the artist”? I never know how to answer really because it’s definitely not the romantic vision some might have.
Ian suggested a few months ago that maybe “We” could possibly put something down in writing, he thought it could make more sense than the drivel that comes out of our mouths at shows!
Okay so what would I write? The most interesting things that happen in the studio are the result of all that is confined to the space between Ian’s ears and wouldn’t I just love to pop there for the day and have a good look around, possibly come back to my world needing a lie down, a massage, and a few shots of something strong! I will never have what Ian has, I believe it was something he was born with. It’s personal, it’s vastly complicated, emotional, and so many other things that only Ian could unfold in a wonderfully descriptive way and it would just flow from him and make complete sense. So my argument is that surely he is the man for the job. His argument “I do drawing not writing and I’m not very comfortable talking about myself”
He asked if it could possibly be some kind of article for the blog on his website, he says it could help to “keep it alive”. He gave me a couple of titles to choose from and I laughed because I felt like a kid in school again.
Anyway I’ve given in, not because he nags so much but because he does this weird thing with his eyes, a bit like the snake from Jungle book, and I’m sure in that space between his ears he also has stored waves of persuasion and once he finds a victim there is no chance of escape! I didn’t give in easily though, oh no! there was a fair amount of moaning in an already defeated way, something along the lines of how a kid would act when asked to clean the bath for the first time. “I can’t do it, I just can’t think of anything about our day that would be worth writing about! Who is going to read it anyway? What does alive mean? Not sure if I want the responsibility of keeping anything alive!”
So here it is. One thing I’m sure of is it won’t be what Ian expected because I actually have no idea where this is going, so please don’t ask to see me at the end of class.
Back to the question in hand, generally if we aren’t disturbed by the outside world, Ian can spend up to 14 hours in the studio in any one day. He’s always working to a deadline with a list of commissions taking him through to 2020. Most will be gifts for special occasions so he has had to be really strict with his time, something he has had to learn and if I’m honest something he has really struggled with, but to this day he has never missed a deadline even if it has meant going to bed at 5am.
After years of hard work building up the business to where it is now I would say we are in a happy place. Day to day life in the office/studio is pretty routine with the exception of occasionally being sideswiped by the excitement of an offer Ian just can’t refuse. They can arrive by email, post, telephone, good old facebook, and sudden phone calls from people who say “We are in the area, is it possible we could pop in?” It’s always exciting and you never quite know what you are going to get next.
For instance, a while ago we had an email from the very well known and respected Ken Schmidt from The Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in New York. He commissioned a piece from Ian for inclusion in his ‘Book of Gow’, a double page fold out no less, exciting times! The book is now available to buy in the US and Graham at American Automags here in the UK has been given exclusive distribution rights.
There can be really quiet days, usually in between commissions, when Ian wears his snake eyes and seems to breathe differently, kind of looking through things instead of at them. I have discovered this is when he is creating in his mind. It can happen at any time. Route 66 on a holiday of a lifetime, the inspiration behind a lot of Ian’s paintings, I lost him for a whole three days. I’ve learnt not to take it personally.
We were at school together, I considered him my best friend and he was already a fantastic artist. I kind of had a crush, nothing I would admit to though because I was way too cool. Turns out he felt the same but we went our separate ways at 18 because I did take it personally.
If I would have taken the time to look deeper into what was going on I possibly could have seen that great art doesn’t just emerge from empty minds and maybe things would’ve been different, or maybe not. Our homes were miles apart and whilst I was out drinking with friends and generally misbehaving, Ian was at home alone in his bedroom creating. He was the only child of an extremely possessive mother, his dad was killed when he was just four. He can now see that drawing was his escape, a way of coping.
The first time Ian noticed me at school I was 13 and hula hooping for a charity event, the zip broke on my skirt and it ended up round my ankles. I carried on regardless.
There is no part of me that has any kind of artistic flare, not through want of trying either, but at 14 when it came time to make subject choices I decided I was going to be an artist. I didn’t ever get anywhere near creating anything decent or even recognizable, but by the age of 16 Ian and I were spending a lot of time together, he was studious and mostly well behaved but he had started to join me at my secret skiving locations and I’ve got to admit it felt good to be leading him astray. I remember us talking endlessly about road trips, finding the longest straight road we could in the world to drive down, making it our mission. What vehicle would we choose? How fast would we go? Sleeping in an old pick up under the stars.
I decided to take art at O Level merely for the purpose of being in the same room as Ian and watching him draw, I’d had just about enough of school by then.
What I didn’t expect or understand at that age was the often daily transition from Ian to Artist. It mostly happened somewhere between the skiving place and the art room, I lost him completely to his creativity and there was absolutely nothing I could do to create any kind of distraction.
This became even more evident when we met up again nearly 20 years later and he couldn’t remember me ever taking art as a subject at school, he still can’t , he did admit to being wildly in lust with me though, which kind of made me realise the power of that transition !!
At 18 Ian went off to college and gained a national diploma in Graphic Design, a path he said he had been lead down after leaving school, he admits to not really having a clue where he wanted his art to take him, he just liked drawing. At the time though, in my eyes, he seemed to have a strange kind of confidence. I thought he was sorted, he now says he was just lost. Ian spent a couple of years after college at the beck and call of his mother and in the Mid 80’s in a desperate bid to be free and gain some kind of independence he bought a Gallery in St Ives Cornwall! (it was the days when you could get a 100% mortgage on projected earnings.) St Ives was somewhere he discovered had held a special place in his dad’s heart too. Ian spent almost 15 years there, it was successful to some extent but his customer base was restricted to tourists and he was painting seascapes just to pay the bills, it didn’t end well.
I had left school, messed around a bit in different jobs. Got married, had a daughter Lucie and when she was just a few months old drove with her to Hungary in my old VW Golf to start a new life. I stayed there until my marriage fell apart 10 years later. Strangely Ian lost his Gallery roughly around the same time as I arrived back in the UK. We were both lost and having separately to start a new chapter in our lives.
Ian and I found each other again in 2002, but that’s another story and I feel like I have gone massively off track.
Hugely insecure, and definitely not at all confident in his abilities as an artist, Ian would subconsciously restrict himself , I believe through a fear of exposing himself to an audience where he would possibly be ridiculed, one negative comment would’ve sent him running for the hills. It frustrated the hell out of me, all those years, all that hard work and he didn’t have a penny to his name either.
The next few years were difficult. Ian helped me run a small business restoring garden statues/ornaments from house clearances, something I had built up since moving back to the UK.
At home in our new flat though I was sorting through boxes and bits and pieces that Ian had brought up from Cornwall and I came across some of his old drawings and paintings in an old suitcase, mostly of cars in beautiful locations. At that point it hit me, I remembered this is what he doodled endlessly in our school books, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars, Chopper Bikes. But Motoring Art wasn’t accepted as art in schools so he’d been restricted.
With my head in the suitcase suitably gobsmacked at what I was seeing I got some kind of weird adrenalin rush, running around the house shouting things like “What the f**k are we doing? What have we been doing? What a f**king cock up!! Come on just believe it you’re f**king awesome now lets get on and do something about it!!” I Scared the Crap out of Ian. I’m sure I saw some of his creativity leak nervously out of the top of his head.
Strangely the same day my sister called and, knowing Ian was into cars and bikes, told us about a bike show that was taking place locally the weekend after next, she thought that Ian might like to check it out. A few days later we bought a small gazebo and traded at the show with some of the paintings and prints from the suitcase. It was a success but not enough of a success to bring a smile to Ian’s face. So I checked out Ian’s car mags and found other shows across the country, car clubs and shows he had followed since he was a kid, venues he had only read about in magazines. Now after almost 15 years of trading at these events up and down the country he still thinks that our more successful shows are just a fluke and he’s still never completely happy with any finished piece or commission. I once asked him why and it took him a few days to answer….
“I think the day I reach the point where I am totally happy will be the day to hang up my brushes, and I’m not ready for that yet”
We have realised however how lucky we are in that we are able to incorporate work with travel. It might not be quite how we had talked about it in the skiving place but through the summer almost every weekend we are travelling to an event or show. We have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing like minded people and there is an understanding, everybody looks out for everybody else, it is what it is and I would never change it. That side of things just evolved for us without effort and we have pleasure in knowing some great people and have made friendships that will last a lifetime. Ian has always been an extremely talented artist but he has struggled with confidence issues, as most artists do. The person Ian is today has a lot to do with the massive appreciation of his work from all of the wonderful people we meet, and I know it sounds a bit sickly but also allowing Ian to be Ian and not just ‘The Artist’.
I can really see that I have gone massively off track, didn’t mean to write so much or go into so much detail on personal histories but I have just read it to Ian and he says he likes it, but is still asking if I could possibly do ‘A day in the life of ’ as it’s what people have been asking for.
So this is where I start moaning again like a kid.
“Oh Ian, I don’t know how to explain what we do through the winter, what do you want me to say? Nothing happens that’s worth talking about really does it? “The winter months can be really long and the days even longer, you concentrate on your commissions and are always working to a deadline. I know it’s always bloody cold here too and we are often up until 3am working because that’s the only time we get any peace. I know you eat too much cake, drink too much coffee, and I drink too much wine, and your constant nose bleeds, what’s that all about?
And when is Keith ever going to leave us alone we only have to leave the house for a minute and he’s there, have you noticed? Where does he actually come from? Do you think he sits there in a bush or something just waiting? I want to clean the windows, have you seen them? Of course you have you can’t actually see out! I can’t go out, he’s just there and he smiles weirdly and keeps stroking me.”
“You sing a lot I could tell people that”
“Yeah you often sing something that gives away what you are thinking. During your creative blank face phases it’s the only way of telling your mood and it’s actually quite helpful for me to know what I’m dealing with”
“Yes Really. You’re going to make a mental note now and stop doing it aren’t you, I shouldn’t have said anything because it can be quite entertaining too sometimes, you have given away so much”
“Have I, like what?”
“I don’t remember”
“Yeah go on give me an example?”
“Ok Chris Rea, Road to Hell”
“So what did that tell you?”
“I don’t know, couldn’t work that one out ….
The Interlink courier guy is nice, he comes here a lot we could tell people about him. He’s almost always on time you don’t get that often these days. The people opposite are moving out did you know? They’ve only been there a couple of months, what is it with that house? The people before put Christmas lights round their door in July, remember we helped them push that old Gypsy caravan in to their front garden and just when I thought things were getting interesting they took down the Christmas lights and a man called Colin came for the caravan and that was them gone! and where was Keith in all this? It’s just us, he’s not too bothered with anyone else it’s creepy” (Artist frowns in an ‘unsure where I am going with this’ kind of way)
“Hey I could tell people we saw Richard Hammond in Morrisons the other day, and how we actually finished our shopping and sat in the car for twenty minutes just to watch him come out so we could see what car he was driving. Do you think he has a Ford Focus just to stay inconspicuous? (Artist frowns again, I suspect pondering other possible reasons why Richard Hammond could have a Ford Focus)
I wonder what Richard Hammond does on a daily basis when he’s not driving cars on TV? I know what his wife gets up to she’s got a column in the Daily Express. I read a couple of articles, one was about the wonderment and chaos that ensued one night when her dog brought a live hedgehog into his kennel. She put the hedgehog carefully back in the hedge and they all lived happily ever after. The other article was about the pains of trying to decide what theme to have for her 50th Birthday party, I know 50!! She’s looking good on it, she’s very active and gets lots of fresh air. Anyway the theme also meant fancy dress and she had about 5 different ideas at different times leading up to the event. She made 5 different invitations for each idea and then went on holiday to Cyprus where she had a change of mind, asked for Richard’s thoughts and reading between the lines it sounds like Richard just wanted a theme which would involve the ladies wearing very little. I think they decided on Hollywood Glamour. We did get an invite you know, it was for the pirate themed idea though and I had already bought the outfits, I suppose pirates would have been fine for a Hollywood theme but I didn’t want to be ridiculed, Jeremy Clarkson can be a complete bastard!! I kind of like him for it though in a weird way” (Artist looking sad, I’m guessing having learnt that he had missed out on yet another celebrity party, together with the opportunity of being able to dress up as a pirate again)
He stops me ranting any further with
“Ok so what about a day in the life of though, an article about us, day to day, what people have been asking for?” (Artist getting impatient)
“Ian I just don’t know, an average day involves you stood with your back to me at the easel being a creative genius, you drink loads of coffee and eat cake. I sit in the opposite corner writing lists, answering emails/phone calls,
ordering stock, doing sums, framing pictures, packaging orders and putting them in piles by the front door for the Interlink guy. I’m probably responsible for logistics too if I completely understood what that meant.
If it means all of the organising and all of the packing for the shows and then telling you how to get there then yeah I do logistics. Do you know that every time we leave for a show once I’ve sorted and packed everything and you have hooked up the caravan, we get to the end of the drive and you always ask left or right?”
“Yeah I do that on purpose, for effect, its funny”
“Oh ok, so you know where you’re going then?”
“No not always”
“Not even if we’ve been there a million times before?”
“Sometimes but mostly no, things change, roads move around and stuff”
“So Ian is it enough that I write just about you always being stood at the easel, working to deadlines but with regular cake and coffee breaks, and that we go to bed mostly around 3am?”
“What time is it?” (Artist getting tired)
“Nearly half past two”
“Ok that’ll be fine, I think you’ve said enough.” ….. Artist giving up and sending me to bed whilst humming ‘Stand by your Man’
Flicking through some photos recently I came across a rarity, for me, in the way of a set of progress shots on one of my paintings.
I always try and remember to take progress photos when I’m painting, they make for a great record to look back on. But I’m usually so lost in the moment I totally forget. This time I’d had the great idea of sticking a post-it note on my studio door in the hope that when I headed for a coffee break I might just notice my sign to myself that reads simply “Take a Photo!”
So here I can share with you the few photos I remembered to take on the progress of a recent commissioned painting featuring some real American Icons, a Mustang, an F150 Pickup and a couple of Harley Davidsons all resting at a classic Gas Station.
I had a good few photos presented to me from which I was able to choose suitable angles to work with …
The brief was to capture these two as the main feature and, although the setting was left to me, a Gas Station had been suggested. This was going to be a present for my client’s wife, she being the owner of both bike and car. Knowing him as well as I do I thought with only a little detective work I just might be able to get hold of a couple of shots of his bike and truck and slip them in to the background somewhere as a little surprise for him too. Good old Facebook didn’t let me down as a good source of photos.
So a few quick sketches were doodled for composition and Gas Station design (sorry I’ve no photos of those) and then I was straight onto the canvas …
You’ll notice I’d progressed quite well into this painting before remembering to take a photo! But you’ll see a strong underpainting in sepia browns that I usually let dry overnight before working, as always, from the back to the foreground. In particular here you’ll see I’m already adding the surprise bike and truck, whilst leaning on my trusty self-made mahl stick with tiny brush in hand.
Working on the building here and also defining the road on the left, including the white stripe that really helps to add depth to this composition as well as maybe lead your eye off to the distance to go exploring.
Big jumps in the progress of this as, like I’ve mentioned, it’s so easy to get so deep “in the zone” you forget you’ve told yourself to stop now and then to take a snap-shot.
Here I am getting lost in all the chrome and details of the Harley. Motorcycles can take so much time to complete, and get right! So there’s my tiny brush again working overtime.
And here’s the finished result from burning the midnight oil. It’s hard to get a good photo of a shiny Oil Painting under artificial light but I’m sure you get the idea …
Scribbling away at trying to come up with a girl to feature in one of my paintings I was determined I didn’t want her to be obviously pretty and draped across a car, I mean, how often has that been done …
No, I wanted a character that left you asking questions.
Doodling frantically I was conjuring up a backdrop in my head, and the scene was quickly becoming rather apocalyptic. My ideas heading towards a gloomy uninviting American Diner with broken buzzing neons and unwelcoming signage. I was sketching an “Eat Here” sign and whilst going back over the lettering with darker thicker lines I stopped at EAT HER … and thought “Zombies!”
To The Canvas …
Although it’s not necessarily noticeable straight away, which is how I want it, the whole composition is based around the large image of a skull.
These early stages are always the trickiest ones where too much coffee is consumed and there’s a lot of sitting and staring …
As progress unfolds there’s something not working for me as I try to fit everything around the large skull hidden in the Diner …
At this stage I stop! … drink more coffee, stare and curse!
That skull just isn’t working where it is, it isn’t lining up with the car. But I’ve put so much work into it already. Yes, but it’s in the wrong place and also, those eyes are a little bit …. comical! Ouch, comical? Do I have to be so brutal and honest?! Well okay, you carry on then if you don’t want to hear it, but you’ll be cursing all the way through to the end of this one if you don’t do something about it now …
One more coffee and …
… and I have to admit that the skull was never going to work where it was, and okay it didn’t look angry it looked … comical
So I scrub it out and paint over it moving the skull just a little to the left so the top jaw and cheekbone lines up with the C pillar and roof of the Cougar and whilst doing so I work on changing the mood of the expression from, what I thought was, angry to a little more sinister …
Of course this is much easier said than done as I now have to re-work the Diner to suit. This entails subtle changes to the details, things like the corrugated iron, the layout of the windows, the doorway and the smoke coming out of the chimney. You’ll see I added another chimney …
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, things are lining up, falling into place and looking good. Another coffee I think, and then on with the details, like some neon signs and that area on the left where the light is coming through. It needs something, or someone, to just catch the eye …
Coffee break …
Painting a Portrait
So now I’m really getting into the details and focusing on the area that’s going to grab the most attention, the girl …
I find the subject of pretty girls one of the hardest things to paint. One little misdirected brushstroke and all of a sudden no longer is she pretty. The face I’m painting here is no larger than my thumb nail …
… just a little more close up work …
… and I think she’s done …
So it’s time for another coffee before taking a look at the canvas again as a whole.
The Final Run …
With the girl in place and the major details dealt with it’s time to work around the canvas adding and tweaking …
I pull out skulls from the shadows and contours of the ground as they almost seem to present themselves to me. And I tweak the lights, not only on the Mercury but also the neon signs and the lights inside the diner. Adding highlights, shadows and details that complement the overall composition, including birds on the wires, I stand back from the canvas making sure the major skull is not lost within the picture and yet still not too obvious. Just a few more brushstrokes, a little more looking, maybe one more coffee, until …
It’s finished! Almost an anti-climax as I stand there with a loaded brush and nowhere to offload the paint. It’s done. I didn’t decide it was done, it kinda decided for me.
So there you have it, the ramblings of mind and coffee as another artwork is produced and another image is set free from my imaginings.
I’ve recently finished this commissioned oil painting featuring The Crop Duster Funny Car and it’s companion The M&R Special Slingshot Dragster parked up in the Grove at Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, California. You may not notice at first that a crop duster light aircraft also appears in the artwork …
My clients for this one are long-term collectors of my work and now good friends. The brief was simple as they have come to trust in what I produce.
Working with a selection of their photos of the featured cars and plane and some of my own photos of the Grove at Famoso I was able to come up with a composition that not only worked well for featuring everything requested but, even at the rough drawing stage, excited me!
I was quick to grab a 20″ x 16″ canvas and set to work drawing up the composition in more detail and colour washing the canvas to get rid of the bright white background …
So here’s some progress pics …
I’m happy to say that my clients were very pleased with the results, as were the owners of the cars, and plane.
Prints are available, here’s a link, click on the image