Vinyl artist Joel Clark is forging a unique path in automotive art that has the global Porsche community enthralled.
Words: Matt Master
Photos: Mike Lambourne Photography
In a small studio in Princes Risborough the wind is rattling the corrugated tin roof as Joel Clark leafs through shredded sheets of colourful vinyl – a peculiar tangle of voids and sinews left behind by an unusual creative process. Joel is an artist who plies his unique trade in the automotive sector, creating two- and three-dimensional artworks in vivid hand-cut vinyl. In recent months his work has been creating something of a frenzy among US Porsche collectors, and looking at his latest piece, it’s easy to see why.
A large section of a 917 is propped against the wall, unmistakable in the famous Salzburg livery that adorned Porsche’s first outright Le Mans winner. It’s a peculiar thing to behold at first. The physical shape is real, unnervingly so, and the colours are pop art bold. The livery is a perfect representation: the red and white paintwork and iconic number 23 on its large racing roundel, but then there is light and shadow at play, giving this substantial object an unlikely dynamism and lightness wherever you stand.
Like so many among us, Joel’s passion for cars was sparked by his father, who owned an eclectic mix of post-war vehicles including a Mk1 Capri V6, an XJS and a Series 1 Land Rover. Having left school at 16, Joel applied for a placement via the Youth Training Scheme (remember that?) at nearby Silverstone. Here he began working for a team of sign writers, designing and creating decals for local race teams.
“Every Monday after a weekend’s racing you’d get an order from whoever had crashed,” Joel recalls. “Thirty Dunlop stickers, 20 Shell stickers – and they all had to be cut by hand. So it was a good technique to learn. I only did it for a few months before going to art school, but it stayed with me.”
After 20 years in the advertising industry, Joel took the plunge and set up on his own. Early 2-D work garnered universal praise, his modest stand at a local hillclimb event selling out in minutes. Joel’s work depicts a wide variety of cars from both the road and race track, icons of silver screen or Group B rally stage alongside a wealth of private commissions from owners keen to have their own pride and joy preserved for eternity.
The peculiar challenge of Joel’s process is that rather than drawing the silhouette of a car, he must create the shapes that ultimately define those outlines. It’s almost like seeing in negative, he explains, visualising and interpreting shapes and blocks of light and shade, of colour or space. And everything is hand cut at Joel’s insistence, preserving his hard-won knife skills and adding an invaluable element of integrity
to every finished piece.
“Because it’s all solid colours,” Joel explains, “your immediate conclusion is that it’s done on a computer, so I make sure that you can see it’s hand-cut. I won’t even use a ruler. That’s the strongest principle – that it’s by hand. So you’ve got this completely contemporary medium, but created with as old a technique and style as you can imagine. I enjoy the marriage between the two.”
Joel began working in 3-D by applying designs to real car doors, and even now will source genuine Porsche doors from online auctions to fulfil commissions. But it was a chance encounter with an Australian who specialises in recreating the chassis and bodywork of the 917 that brought him to the point we’re witnessing today.
The doors, and in this piece the accompanying panel sections, are created over moulds that have been built up from original factory plans. Each door is made from hand-laid fibreglass, taking many hours and no shortage of skill in itself. The doors are then delivered to Joel, who undertakes the vinyl finish to order, with popular choices including the John Wyer Gulf colours, Pink Pig and inimitable Martini stripes.
One door will take up to a week of solid work, creating templates from full-size drawings and gradually building up both the underlying livery and light effects through a painstaking freehand process. There is a distinct texture to the finish where layers overlap, a point of creative order Joel is keen to preserve. Studied up close it’s possible to see the extraordinary number of shapes, the metre upon metre of exhaustive knife work, that goes into one of these pieces. Stand back and it becomes a dazzling, organic whole again.
Joel’s immediate future looks certain to be distinctly Porsche-shaped. “Porsche owners,” he observes, “are by far the most enthusiastic and passionate. And they are the people who want pictures of the cars.”
His ambition is to finish an entire full-size car, something he estimates would take a minimum of six months. But with the 50th anniversary of the 917 around the corner, this could just be his moment…
Visit joelclarkartist.carbonmade.com to enjoy more of Joel's work.