Adopting the Gonzo Approach
by Brian Stupski
Some years ago, I was introduced to the work of a journalist named Hunter S. Thompson. Bear in mind that this “introduction” came at a pivotal point in my creative career, and I was completely drawn to his style of not only writing, but his almost renegade technique of forming a story. Here was a journalist who not only covered the news at hand, but worked in a personal angle, often thrusting himself so deeply into the event he was covering so as to alter its outcome! “Absolute brilliance”, I thought! Not mere “coverage” or “reporting”, but LIVING it! This was just too much… This guy GOT it! To a student of Fine art, this was the epitome of “creating” anything: the EXPERIENCE… being a PART of what you’re creating!
Thompson’s style of news came to be known as “Gonzo Journalism”, and the name packs the energy rightfully reserved for this all-out, sensory attack, in which the writer himself becomes an integral part of the story. Somewhere between the facts, self-interjection and commentary, the truth lay in wait. This was the sort of writing I had done since I could first form sentences… I had found someone who had paved the way before me, and man, I was digging this. Taking something that has always been deemed as objective, and beating it into something much cooler and entertainingly subjective… showing that a subject or event could have an effect on the writer, and then, at times becoming a part of that story was just simple logic to me… After all, how interesting is just blowing some facts all over a sheet of paper or computer monitor?! Stirring in (or up!) some emotion is key to creating compelling content. Anyone can say “gee, Stan… there was this one guy, and he said this, and the other guy said that. Then they shook hands.” Wow. Not sure about you, but I’M drained from that story. What a cathartic experience… or NOT. Thompson would become the center of his work, very often blurring the line between “reporting” facts and “influencing” a story. He interjected opinion, an energy, and most of all, an experience.
That said, I began to look at this field of automotive art that I work in, and feel a bit depressed. It’s gone from the fun, energetic industry to a machine full of photo-real, computer-generated imagery lately. The landscape is littered with 3-D models and tracings of the same-old, same-old.
Does anyone just DRAW anymore?!
The creative projects… the REALLY wild customs and out-of-the-box hot rods are the ones that inspire and push the hobby to that next level… they’ve become fewer and further between. It’s become… well, “safe”. We’re flooded with near stock-looking blah-mobiles drawn with a lack of personality, often with the actual car being just the same bland cookie-cutter crap over and over again. Is it because we’ve run into the wall of “Well I can’t draw that…” ???! …and so the builders out there settle for what their chosen artists can draw… Wow… a photo-real 3D model of a ‘69 Camaro on aftermarket wheels… just like those other ones! What the hell happened?! It was as though Henry L. Mencken’s “bathtub hoax” had brought new life in the car community. As though someone started the rumor that renderings needed to be sterile, lackluster depictions of some uniform style, and by golly, the whole group jumped the bandwagon, eating up the words and carrying it right into the common belief system they’d developed. Worse yet, I saw it start to occur in my own work as well from time to time, and it made me take a step back, and in doing that, I had a moment of absolute clarity.
I took the past couple of months and began heading back to what made this whole automotive illustration gig so appealing to me at the start: The ENERGY!! I pondered just what makes a rendering so valuable to a project, and beyond the financial (sponsor opportunities, press, etc) and communication (illustrating the modifications) value, it all boils down to CREATING EXCITEMENT! Simply looking at a photograph of a car can be cool, sure, but you’re seeing something COMPLETE, FINISHED… and it removes the emotional response, the natural impulse to IMAGINE… To look at the idea SUBJECTIVELY!! By leaving just enough to the imagination, just enough room to interpret something, some part as YOUR OWN, you don’t just LOOK at the work, you EXPERIENCE it!!
This is why I leave some loose lines among the tightened concepts, some free-form areas to chance… I’m not nailing down parts, bit by bit from some “rule book” (”18’s and 19’s? Check. Suspension lowered exactly like every other car on that forum? Check. Billet parts here, here and here? Check. Correct valve covers so as to avoid the wrath of the “Traditional Police”? Check, check!”), I’m inventing a concept to be shared, interpreted… EXPERIENCED by not only the owner or builder of the car, but anyone who happens upon it. Anyone (and I repeat ANYONE… you, your kids, your neighbor’s Grandmother) with access to a 3D model, or some tracing paper and a few pencils and markers, or worse yet, Photoshop, Google and some time can bash out a lifeless, non-creative turd, and have it celebrated by the easily duped masses… but the ones who can hammer down a concept, and show some life in the lines, some ENERGY… man… those are the pieces that stand up to time, and drop their pants at the lesser crap. Compare a Charlie Smith rendering to some Photohack from a guy in a forum. Name your three favorite Harry Bradley renderings, or Steve Stanford concepts, or Larry Wood designs. Easy, right? Now try to do the same for three photochops or 3D models. That’s a pretty tough one, huh? And do you like those pieces you named because the artist kissed your ass on some online forum, or because the work stood out, elicited a RESPONSE in you? Pretty creepy realization, huh?
I’m not about to fall victim to this absolute “dumbing-down” of the hot rod and custom car industry… Rather, I’m adopting the “Gonzo” style, and going at it with the passion that brought me here to begin with. What’s great is that I’ve never really fit in to begin with, so if anyone takes offense or has their feelings hurt by my shift in priorities, I certainly don’t have to hear the whining, or fear some drop in the number of cards sent my way over the Holidays. It’s just me, my art, and the drive to push it until the son of a bitch breaks from the altitude. I’m not about to fall victim to trends… to having the need to be accepted because I’m doing the same thing fifteen other guys are currently latching onto. Never had a trendy hairstyle or shoes or pants, either. I think I’ll manage without being “in”.
Our pal Hunter (from the start of this whole mess) stated that “he that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master”. Grand advice… and a central theme here in the Studio. Draw inspiration from as many sources as possible! I’m often looking to objects or art forms so removed from cars that even I begin to wonder how they’ll apply… and it’s a blast! I’ll look at a painting and consider the brush strokes, and experiment, seeing how they might work in a current or future piece. Perhaps there’s a rhythm in a song that just makes sense when laying down the lines on some graphics… It can come from almost anywhere. The key here, though, is KNOWING YOUR SUBJECT.
Simply hacking a few photos together, or painting some digital model or tracing a picture doesn’t grant you any more knowledge of designing a hot rod or custom car than does accidentally bumping a car in the parking lot with your shopping cart. When you take time to know the car, to understand the parts and pieces that make the whole… to look into the designer’s mind and grasp where he was going and WHY, well, you’re starting to grasp the idea. You’re in no position to modify that car until you understand it. Going back to Dr. Thompson for a second (after all, he’s the reason we got rolling on this anyway), he once wrote that “Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it. ” Incredibly wise indeed, and the big “why” that so many of these sterile, cold “renderings” lack that “punch”… the thrill, the excitement of a GREAT piece… the ones that make you take a step backward and yell “BITCHIN’, MAN”!!
I want MY work to be like that!
With all of that strewn on the table, I’m going to go back into the Studio and tear the next project a new one. I challenge you to go and do the same in the shop, and wow the snot out of everyone who experiences your Gonzo build.