Art a part of his vi­sion

Cre­at­ing sculp­tures from car parts is quite a tal­ent, writes Karla Pin­cott

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

WHEN James Cor­bett looks at a car part, he starts see­ing things such as dogs, sheep and ducks.

And his tal­ent for turn­ing the parts into sculp­tures has built the Queens­land-based for­mer car wrecker a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion in the in­ter­na­tional art world.

His ex­pres­sive pieces — full of life and per­son­al­ity — are sought by col­lec­tors here and over­seas. And he is rep­re­sented by gal­leries in the US and the UK as well as Aus­tralia, where works such as his Scot­tish black-face ram with its thick coat of spark plugs have sold for up to $25,000.

He hasn’t worked in the wreck­ing yard for 10 years now, but his years there sparked a cre­ativ­ity that had been ig­nored since he aban­doned a pre­vi­ous sign­writ­ing ca­reer.

‘‘I’ve al­ways been a car lover, and I was rac­ing off-road bug­gies when I started play­ing with the idea of do­ing a sculp­ture in 1998, so the first piece I made was one of those,’’ Cor­bett re­mem­bers. ‘‘I was go­ing to give it to the club I raced with to use as a tro­phy — but then I couldn’t give it away.

‘‘So I kept it on the counter at the wreck­ing yard and it got a lot of com­ments. I’d re­ally en­joyed do­ing it, so I did a few more and then thought I’d see what I could do with this.

‘‘I’d al­ways told my kids that if you think you have a tal­ent, you have to use it. So I had to put my money where my mouth was.’’

He kept mak­ing pieces, and sell­ing them, and get­ting com­mis­sions — in­clud­ing a ma­jor one to cre­ate a se­ries of na­tive an­i­mals from Toy­ota parts for a ma­jor deal­er­ship.

But though his pieces com­bined the car world and the art world, some­times the two col­lided.

‘‘I nearly missed the open­ing of my first ex­hi­bi­tion (in Bris­bane),’’ Cor­bett says. ‘‘I was the last one to ar­rive be­cause just as I was leav­ing the wreck­ing yard a guy came in who’d driven from Toowoomba to get some parts. So I was late for my own show.’’

Within two years of mak­ing his first sculp­ture, he re­alised he’d have to choose be­tween the wreck­ing yard and the art that was stream­ing out of it — but with a com­mis­sion book full of or­ders and a suc­cess­ful ex­hi­bi­tion at Syd­ney’s Michael Com­mer­ford Gallery, the choice was fairly clear.

De­spite no longer work­ing in the yard, Cor­bett spends nearly the same amount of time care­fully look­ing at car parts, and col­lect­ing those des­tined for a new life as art ma­te­ri­als.

‘‘Of­ten, I know a shape is one I’m look­ing for or I re­ally like a piece be­cause it’s got so much char­ac­ter and it will be a fea­ture piece in some­thing,’’ he says.

‘‘Some­times you don’t know when you get it what it will be and other times you know im­me­di­ately — and some­times that cre­ates what the sub­ject is. Other times you do the sub­ject and find the pieces you need.

‘‘Cer­tain sculp­tures are more fun as they’re com­ing to­gether, like The Lurcher (a large and de­cid­edly guilty­look­ing hound).

‘‘ Other pieces fight you while you’re mak­ing them, but they still end up a re­ally nice sculp­ture. It’s a fine line be­tween fun and frus­tra­tion.’’

And cars still play a big role in Cor­bett’s life as well as in his sculp­ture, with some of his hand­i­work end­ing up as part of his garage.

‘‘I’ve got some old rac­ing cars, in­clud­ing one that is a 1930s sprint car — for want of a bet­ter de­scrip­tion— that I built from old parts in the same way they would have build them back then,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s a replica, but it’s all old parts and I raced that in vin­tage rac­ing for a cou­ple of years be­fore I de­cided that it might kill me.’’

Car nut: James Cor­bett used to race his hand­crafted 1930s sprint car (above) and (right) the sculp­tor at work mak­ing works of art like those fea­tured be­low.

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