Monday, June 14, 2010

Alan Bull: Little wheels keep on turning

Ever wonder how Alan Bull got started with that edgy, somewhat nostalgic and most definitely, emotionally charged truck series that, like it or not, more than anything, has come to define him over the past decade, despite the Port painter's diverse portfolio? The answer is obvious ... if you have a background in automotive forensic psychology: The big truck thing grew out of his childhood obsession with much smaller vehicles — those little Matchbox cars, to be precise. And, since we’re being so precise, we should make it clear for those of you with fuzzy memories that we are not talking about the much sexier Hot Wheels, which took the air out of the practical-but-kinda-frumpy Matchbox collection back during the Summer of Love when Mattel introduced its series of sports cars instead of, er, the cement and dump trucks favored by its English rival.They may have been stupid little boy toys, but, for many of a certain age, they are soaked in nostalgia, like the truck series — and, the artist says, "definitely the source of my fascination with the trucks. They started the whole thing rolling."
The Matchbox series has been on-again-off-again project for Bull for more than a decade, not quite as long as the trucks series, but in the ballpark. The artist, who grew up in Old Town, Maine, and studied at Philadelphia College of Art before turning up in Newburyport in 1987, put the trucks series in gear in 1995, after getting the first one down on canvas during the Newburyport Wet Paint Auction. He started the Matchboxes started three years later with an exhibit at Chameleon, when, he says, he was looking for something new to do. He worked on the series from 1999 through 2003, putting together a solo show with 50 of the cars at Whitney Art Works in Greenport, N.Y., in 2000, and then did a new batch of a dozen two years ago for a show at the now-defunct Ferry Wharf Gallery. The Whitney show featured the 50 pieces — watercolors, painted on toned paper — in a grid.

 Bull paints from the actual vehicles, most of which he has to borrow from friends. (He has a “giant stash of them packed away somewhere, I don’t know where.”) He likes to lose himself in the detail (some of the cars have 100 die-cast parts) and the flaws ("I'm interested in showing the wear and tear, and the effect of time on them," he says.). Originally he wanted to get up close and personal, totally scrutinizing them, focusing on the detail, the imperfections, but decided that would turn the memory into something else. "I wanted them to remain in their own world, in the world I remember," he says.

Now the continuing car series is getting another spin around the block — in an auxiliary exhibit for Wenham Museum's “Transportation Station: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go,” but, more importantly, in the pages of "The Believer," a nationally distributed literary magazine started by Dave Eggers, author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” Several new watercolors from the Matchbox series will be used as spot illustrations in the national magazine. He's still racing against a self-imposed deadline for the summer edition. Still a lot of monkey work — separations, that kind of technical thing — to get through. We'll see. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece, JC and Alan, if you need some more Matchbox cars, trucks or vans I'm your man.