article published in hh
THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
Would you make the ultimate sacrifice and burn your dream car to the ground in the name of making an artistic statement? Probably not. Meet the artist that set his car – and the art industry – ablaze – literally.
Long before this visionary man unleashed his inner-Cameron Frye on an unsuspecting Ferrari, he was a struggling artist, searching to define his passions and establish his own merit on the art scene. A car enthusiast for as long as he can remember, Anthony worked his fingers to the bone in the hopes of holding the keys to a coveted Ferrari. While most people would be quick to point out that “Ferrari” and “struggling artist” don’t belong in the same sentence, it should be noted that it was not always his art that was paying the bills – Anthony was working any angles he could find to reach his goal. After many years of saving, Anthony went out and bought himself a Ferrari 355 Spider and reveled in the joy of not only driving a car he was obsessed with but also in the joy of having accomplished something in the realm of his own success. However, Anthony looked down on his key ring and found not only Ferrari keys, but the keys to an apartment as well. Dejected by his own opulence, Anthony decided to follow the Greek method of sacrifice and crash and burn the car to form one of the most unique art pieces we have ever profiled in Heavy Hitters Magazine. The rest is history.
Now, the British-born James is a successful artist, having graduated with honors at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London in 1998. He has gone on to have his work featured in museums and galleries worldwide and displayed in the General Motors Building and the Seagram Building in New York. The bi-coastal artist splits time between New York and Los Angeles and is currently working on a series of pieces with an “order in chaos” theme. During one of his West Coast stints, we caught up with Anthony to find out why doing something insane can actually replenish your sanity.
How did this monumental piece of automotive art come to be?
When I was seven years old, I was always infatuated with Ferrari cars, and I turned that obsession into a reality by the time I was 30 years old and actually able to afford one.
How were you able to finally afford the Ferrari?
It was quite simple. I saved, saved, saved. I was a struggling artist and made a few good deals, so when I was ready, I went out and bought a Ferrari 355. The Ferrari was my prized possession, and I remember parking it outside my tiny East Village apartment.
So how in turn, did your prized possession crash, burn, and become a piece of art?
I conceptualized this piece back in 2001, and I knew that the car would ultimately become made into a piece of art. Since it was my prized possession, I conceptualized a plan, which revolved around the Ferrari, and for me, it was about making work a sacrifice amongst other concepts and metaphors. Since it would become a sacrifice to make this piece, I decided that I wanted to torch the vehicle, and this is where the birch trees come into play. The ancient Greeks would make their sacrifices in the Birch Forest for Venus, and with that said, it gave me the idea to take my car to Kingston, where I went to douse the vehicle in gas and set it on fire in the dark forest.
So where did the rear end damage come from?
I knew what my intentions were, so I was messing around with the car and ended up taking it sideways into a tree – thus the use of the birch trees in my piece. After hitting the rear quarter panel, I set it on fire, and to be honest; it was a wild experience. The vehicle actually exploded twice, and the flames from the fire were so intense that for a minute, I thought that I might have gone too far and lost everything. I was thinking that I might have burned it too much and didn’t know if it would be used as the centerpiece of my sculpture.
So, the original intention was to destroy a perfectly good car?
Yeah. It’s like burning cash in some way. I remember wanting the car so bad that it only made sense to use my prized possession as the ultimate sacrifice for this art piece. It actually all worked out well, and I think it’s a powerful piece.
How long did it take to create this masterpiece from concept to completion?
It took me ages to make this all happen. In all, it took a total of probably 2.5 years to create. As a concept, the idea was around five years in the making, and a lot of it was because I wanted to take my time. I wanted to work out every detail and make sure that the metaphor was right for the piece and translated perfectly. It was technically difficult in places as well and using the Ferrari as a centerpiece didn’t make it easy to move around.
Every time you have to move the piece from gallery to gallery, is it moved as a whole unit, or does it have to be disassembled, transported, and reassembled?
The entire structure comes apart, and it has to be carefully moved piece by piece and then reconstructed. In total, it takes about three days from start to finish, and that’s utilizing a crew of four to five people.
How much does this particular piece sell for?
I don’t know what the price is. You have to ask Patrick Painter, who represents me. When I make this kind of art or any art at all, I don’t think about the prices; I think about the concept and the finalized product. Money and creativity don’t mix. I simply have an idea, and I execute it.
You told me you waited a long time to show the piece and to get the right representation. You told me the story, but how did you end up with Patrick, and why?
I previewed the piece in New York just in my studio, and MOMA invited some of the committee members and threw a party at my studio. There were about 100 people in attendance at this same time that Art Net Magazine did a story about it. Patrick Painter saw the piece and contacted me.
How did it feel to get a call from one of the most influential art dealers in the world?
I was very excited. When I first received his call, I knew that it was going to be a good match. I like what Patrick stands for, and he is knowledgeable about the market and passionate about the artists he works with and represents…and here we are now.
Was your career always as outstanding as we now see?
Not at all. In my twenties, even though I had some success in making individual works, the majority of my career was a complete failure. I was always in financial trouble, and it took me a long time to get out of that trouble. Finding the right representation was always a problem, and I always wanted to make sculptures with no compromise, which is easier said than done. There’s a lot that goes into a piece, and I needed a solid and responsible crew, as well as really good materials and the right backing to fund a piece. In short, my early twenties had minimal success, but as I kept on progressing and evolving, I had to become more tenacious and hungry. It wasn’t until years later that everything started happening for me.
What kept you motivated?
It was just something that was within me. I like making art. It’s what I do, and I don’t know if I can do anything else. I know that I don’t want to do anything else, and I’m not capable of doing anything else, so I guess you can say that I’ve given myself no option but to make it. Art has been my obsession for a very long time now.
Give us a breakdown of the Rolls Royce?
I’m obsessed with cars, and I’ve had a bunch of cars over the years. The latest vehicle I bought was this Rolls Royce.
Why did you opt to buy a classic Rolls Royce?
I bought it because the Rolls Royce reminds me of my relationship with my work. The coach is built 100% by hand. It reminds me of my studio practice. Just like everything I create in the studio is made with my hands, these vehicles exude that same kind of craftsmanship. These vintage models were all built by hand, and just like my art, they’re representative of the blood, sweat, and tears required to handcraft something. We’re making something with no compromise, and I think this Rolls Royce is an example of that kind of quality. Besides, it’s eccentric and not purely functional by any means. To get even more in detail, the particular model was limited to only 250 units, and I like that because it runs in perfect parallel with great art. It’s scarce and always limited in number.
In terms of the future for Anthony James, where do you see yourself headed?
I’m just very excited to be located in LA. I think I’m making my best work to date, and it’s getting better. It makes me more excited, and I know I’m in the right city. I see my future here is making art in Los Angeles to the best of my abilities.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring artist that read your piece?
Stick with it and stay dedicated. Eventually, you will get where you want to be and, most importantly, stay tenacious and stay dedicated to what you believe.
I’ve heard rumors that this is going to become a series?
Yes, you’re correct. I plan on making more of the car pieces. For this concept to be done correctly, there has to be more than one piece, and I’m thinking about doing the next one with a Ferrari or quite possibly a Lamborghini.
Why not crash the Rolls?
No! There’s no metaphor. I have no problem blowing this one up, but for me, it just wouldn’t carry the right metaphor for the job.
Did you feel it was stress-relieving to destroy the Ferrari?
To do something so hedonistic was definitely relaxing. Sometimes, God reveals himself in opposites, and I thought he was anti-materialistic by burning the car; it ended up being a hedonist.