JAMES CORBETT CAR PARTS SCULPTOR
In the late 1960’s, Queenslander, James Corbett was a small boy.
His young classmates would always say that he would be an artist when he grew up. “I could and always did draw”. By the time he was in high school that was forgotten, “back then in our part of the world, art wasn’t even offered as a subject…….a career in art………well that was just ridiculous. I was a bit keen to be an architect but really didn’t get any support or encouragement to do that…..I was encouraged to join the public service, and that’s what he did. “I hated it every day for the two years that I was there”.
Thirty years later after being a sign writer, with a brush, in those days, and then the owner of an auto recycling business, James became an artist.
“I was surrounded by all these parts every day. I could see shapes in them. I had given a fellow some parts for his rally car, and he had won a trophy made from gears welded together. It was just an abstract thing, but he left it on the counter as a sort of thank you. One day I looked at it and thought, “I can do better than that, and so I made my first sculpture from car parts. Just to prove it to myself.
That really was a life changing moment for me. I really enjoyed the process, and the chance to be creative again. I did another one and then another, and after making maybe half a dozen, each so much better than the last, I could see that I had found a talent that I hadn’t known that I possessed. The auto recycling business was ordinary and money was tight, but I knew I had found something, and I made a decision to see how far I could take it. I had always told my young sons to make the most of any talent they had been given, I had no choice but to live the advice. I went at it 100%.
Now, some 17 years later, James is an established international artist, still growing in popularity and continues to regularly exhibit in Australia, the U.S.A. and the U.K., clients eagerly anticipating the arrival of new pieces with each exhibition. While private clients are still the bulk of recipients, corporate pieces and large installation pieces have featured more prominently for James in the past few years. He holds a particular fondness for two Polar Bear cubs he completed for the “Second Nature” Exhibition at Philadelphia Zoo in 2015. Completed using 7000 spark plugs, it was both challenging and a delight for this exciting project to come to fruition.
James and his works have also been featured on various television shows in Australia and commercials in South East Asia and Africa. Radio shows in the U.K. and magazines from all parts of the world. Not the usual for an untrained artist, welding in a shed on a large island at the bottom of the world, a long way from anywhere. “Funnily, I’m still sort of unknown in Brisbane. Sometimes as they say, people can’t see the forest for the trees. I think I prefer it this way”.
People are enthralled by James’ ability to put personality ad life into inanimate things. “This is what makes the art” says James.
His subjects vary from life size people and animals to his trade mark Speed Demon car and bike racers. “I think my favourite subjects are dogs and the monster pre WWI race cars. The dogs because of their sheer variety, and I love the way that they speak with their eyes and ears. If I can get that right, they can be so alive. Those early cars fascinate me because of the lunacy, passion and naivety. Speed and glory was the goal. Stopping, turning, or survival was incidental”.
“I have quite a passion for beautiful mechanical things, I find the thought processs behind them intriguing. I love that they are the realisation of someone’s vision. Bugatti, Miller, early Porsches and Jaguars are all beautiful executions of a clever individual’s thoughts”.
“When I work, I don’t bend parts, sometimes I cut them, but I always try and work within the rule that each individual part remains recognisable. The balance between chrome parts, mechanical bits and some of the lovely old patinated or brass parts is really important. That balance helps to portray the subject’s character in the completed piece.
My works are like a solved puzzle, and not unlike an impressionist’s painting. They use lots of small individual strokes of paint to make an overall illusion of a single cohesive image. I use individual parts. Their placement is critical for the illusion of life that I’m trying to achieve. I’d like to think that years into the future, my sculptures will be seen as not only desirable art work, but also as an intriguing time capsule from the age of the motor car”.
James is shyly staggered by the snowballing response to his work. “I get emails from people in different parts of the world who have stumbled upon images of my work. Some are in awe, some are inspired, some want to buy pieces that are long sold, and others have just written to say thank you for brightening their day.
I have been astounded to be written to by university students studying art on the other side of the world to tell me they are critiquing my works in class”.
James’ favourite email said simply “I muck around with wood, but you make junk breathe”.