Art a part of his vision
Creating sculptures from car parts is quite a talent, writes Karla Pincott
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.