“When you buy something from an artist you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of heart, a piece of soul… a small piece of someone else’s life.”
Alastair Gibson has a way of summing up exactly what you want to say before you’ve even thought it. If owning an artwork is a window into the artist’s soul, then to see an artist at work in their creative space, to witness them standing on the precipice of frustration and error and in the same moment pull back and conquer it, is to step through the looking glass entirely.
Stepping inside the studioFollowing Gibson’s illuminating talk at ArtÓ (as featured in Cotswold Life August 2022 issue), we were privileged to visit the former Formula One chief mechanic turned carbon fibre sculptor and his highly skilled Carbon Art 45 team at ‘Studio 45’ and literally see the nuts and bolts, the scalpels and glue, the precision machines and fine motor skills that go into each and every one of his engineering inspired sculptures.
Gibson produces anatomically correct sculptures of predominantly marine life in carbon fibre embellished with original F1 parts, making use of the latest cutting-edge technology. His approach to art fuses the natural world with modern engineering by viewing both through a lens of a continuum of evolution and development.
On entering the studio you’re immediately struck with a sense of order – the neatly labelled boxes of F1 parts that make Gibson’s artworks so unique, the meticulous manner in which sheets of carbon fibre are stored (at -20ᵒ to prevent the resin from curing and the sheets becoming unworkable), the care taken to keep pieces spotless when being sanded and prepared for coating.
The artist in session
Approaching Gibson’s workbench, where he applies the finishing touches to his sculptures, and you see the small things that make an artist tick. The inspirational Brian Eno quote prominently displayed (‘Take a break’ on this occasion), a dried shark fin and Lego Creator shark reflecting his passion for the apex predator, a drained coffee cup, a Nina Simone CD.On the day of our visit Gibson is working on a one-off special edition version of his iconic ‘mako pup’ sculpture, adding aluminium water system fittings from a Grand Prix car to the carbon fibre body of the shark as exhausts. These small details are perfectly to scale with the life-size piece and maintain the aesthetic of the fish.
We catch a moment where one of the aluminium fittings doesn’t match its designated cavity (due to the UV protective clear coat reducing the size) but a deft turn of the scalpel by Gibson enlarges the hole and solves the problem. The race is then on to place all of the fittings correctly before the glue used to secure them dries – manoeuvres with echoes of a F1 component change during a test session.
The drive to create
The studio pays homage to Gibson’s career in motor sports and love of speed. The space is home to five vintage motorbikes which he races and restores, a Simpson Strickland triple expansion marine steam engine and mementoes from his 22 years spent travelling the world’s race circuit. But far from bringing clutter and chaos these items only add to the pervading aura of purpose.
His entire team, currently working on the retro baby piranha collection, exudes a sense of calm dedication and it’s evident that Gibson invests in people as much as he does in the creative process. Our visit coincides with a work experience placement and he has also trained staff from apprentice level up. You see life in action in his studio as much you see art evolving.
Context to the construction
On our way out we’re treated to a view of two extraordinary pieces en route to collectors – a Ferrari emblazoned ‘carbon humboldt’ with graduated spring loaded washers as suckers and ‘j manta B195’ based on the Benetton 195 in which Michael Schumacher claimed his second world championship with Gibson on the team as a mechanic.
It is the ultimate understatement to say that Gibson is a compelling artist and individual. There is a narrative behind every construction in Studio 45. A desire for beauty and authenticity in every detailed plan. Meaning to every output. Perhaps this is why it’s so difficult to leave – you feel you too have become part of the story.
Written by Emma Bovill for Arto