The inspiration for my entry, American Dream, came from a trip to the World of WearableArt™ & Classic Cars museum. I was surprised to find that the selection of classic cars fascinated me just as much as the wearable-art pieces, in particular the Plymouth that was on display. My obsession was immediate and I began researching all the models with similarities – the tail fins, the chrome, the jet aged look ; a personification of sexy confidence that almost wrote itself, symbolically, and used throughout pop culture.
The relationship between men and their love for cars has seen them being written as a female – and actually it sort of makes sense, but there is no car quite like the Cadillac to play the part of the brash, brassy bombshell. The exaggerated 1950s silhouette became my starting point, proportional, kept fun by mirroring the fashions of the era. I was careful to ensure it didn’t become literal – the key was in making the soul of the car jump to life.
After pages of initial sketching, I began working with clay to create half-sized models so I could get a clear idea of how it would be in 3D form, how it would be worn, how it could physically be constructed. Once I had decided on my form, I moved on to making the bottom half, to scale, on a mannequin, using clay.
This was my first hurdle as it became obvious very quickly that it was going to be too heavy, which meant I had to make the shape in sections. I decided to papier mâché them, and then fill the ‘shell’ with builder’s foam. From this I could make a pattern for the red shiny vinyl.
The detail involved in getting the texture was crucial to the overall appearance, and my previous work had provided me with the practice of doing ‘mock upholstery’. Once I had coated the foam structure in a thin layer of quilting Dacron, I then stretched the PVC fabric over and glued it in place, hiding the seams with chrome car trim.
The rear lights, helmet and pointy breasts were constructed using the same clay and papier mâché technique. The rough papier mâché provided a basic shape upon which the finishing could take place, using actual car-body filler. With the final shape achieved, I could then use a primer along with a top coat to best achieve the chrome look.
The bodice was constructed out of foam and the same PVC upholstery technique. Key finishes such as the grate at the front could be purchased, sprayed and cut to shape, as well as the $2 dollar shop egg shapes for lights.
I think the key to a successful piece is in the areas of concept and execution. Having a strong concept is important, but it must be fully thought-out and robust enough to carry through from start to finish. With execution, it is being able to completely finish every technique to the highest level of craftsmanship. Finally, it is using the correct materials, which will provide the finishing touches to match the original concept.
– Text and photos by Sarah Thomas, 2016