AN INTERVIEW WITH A FERRARI ARTIST

WALLACE WYSS is a native of Detroit but moved to California in 1969 to

continue his work as an automotive writer. Before that, he had been in

advertising, writing ads for Chevrolet in the original "muscle car"

era of the '60s. In 2007 he made his first painting and is now

transitioning into the world of fine art. He gave Rick Bartholomew, a

Riverside graphics consultant, this exclusive interview...

wallace wyss ferrari art

Wallace Wyss

Q. As a writer, what magazines

did you work for?

Wyss: I started on Motor Trend,

then went to CAR LIFE, and then

when that magazine went bust,

rejoined Motor Trend in 1969 and

stayed until 1972. Then

decadeslater I contributed to Car and Driver. Plus I wrote for magazines in many

countries, from Japan to Australia.

Q. What about your books?

Wyss: A dozen so far, including three on Ferrari, alas all out of

print. The last was a novel called Ferrari Hunters, which I still hope

to find a publisher for.

Q. During all this time you didn't know you were an artist?

Wyss: I started in art in college but immediately switched to writing

when a summer intern program was opened offering a job in advertising

copywriting. After graduation I first wrote Oldsmobile ads then

switched to the agency with the Chevrolet account.

Q. So you made your first painting when?

Wyss: I did it purely as a promotional effort. Back in 2007. I went

to the Beverly Hills car show on Rodeo Drive with the idea of

promoting my book on Shelby which had just come out. I brought along

an oil painting I had made of Carroll Shelby when he was an

up-and-coming race driver and a small picture of the painting. I sold

the book to a publisher I met there and when I showed him the picture

of the painting, he asked "Where's the painting?" and I said "In my

car, six blocks away." He said "Go get it, you sold that too." On the

long walk back, I thought "If they want my art, I'll be an artist."

wallace wyss ferrari

Q. Why are Ferraris so frequently

in your work?

Wyss: I think consistently as an

automaker they make the most

exciting Cars-I mean you go back to the Fifties all the way to the very

latestcalled ‘La Ferrari.’.You see newcomers come along like McLaren but when all is said

and done, Ferrari has the tradition behind it influencing even their latest designs.

Q. What are your favorite Ferrari models?

Wyss: There’s favorites in each era. I can’t narrow it down to

ten cars. And some I only like them from certain views. I would say

the Giugiaro designed short wheelbase 250GT by Bertone is the best in

side view only. The short wheelbase 250GT by Pininfarina has a

pugnacious rear view, the 250GTO is good from almost all angles. Even up to the modern

era, the new ‘La Ferrari’ looks like it will be a beautiful car but I haven’t actually seen it in

person.

Q. You make it a practice to work from pictures?

Wyss: Yes. I admire the skills of those artists who can start with a raw sheet of paper but

in the past, I have tried to draw a car from scratch and you need so much equipment like

elipse guides to do the wheels and such that I just don't have the patience. I just walk out

in my office and peruse my collection of 10,000 photos to see if I have anything I can base

the painting on.

Q. Do you do a lot of research on your period paintings?

Wyss: A lot of car art collectors are bugs on accuracy. You have to be because some

people are painting their race car to look like a famous car or doing model cars they want

to be correct So I have to make some effort to make sure the color of the car is right if it's

a race car. For instance I painted a '63 Cobra with a hardtop at LeMans but made the car

red. Fortunately I hadn't ordered any prints before I checked a few websites and found out

the colors of the two Cobras at LeMans that year were light green and white. So I have to

repaint the car to get the color right before I make any reproductions.

Q. Would you be pleased with the title "super-realist?"

Wyss: I think another term for that style which is now in vogue is "hyper-realism." That

adjective would only apply to some of my work, for instance my Gulf GT40 at Monterey. It's

hard to tell the background in that painting from a photograph. But other times , when I see

an exciting car and manage to get a shot off, there is a problem with the background, say

a 1995 truck in back of a P3/4. I will either blank out the background in white or render it in

dark shadows so as not to distract from the car. Yet not every painting has this abstracted

background. I am still searching for a style I can call my own.

Q. When you paint a race car that is in modern vintage racing, do you

make the whole painting "period?"

Wyss: No, only a few depict racing in the original era of the car since I wasn't around

racetracks in the Fifties and didn't shoot photos at the races I went to in the Sixties. Most

are from vintageracing. The problem with vintage racing is that, in the open cars, the

owner might have spent hundreds of thousands making his car 100% authentic in

appearance, but as soon as he puts on that modern full face helmet he destroys

the"period" look of my photo. I haven't decided whether to paint old style helmets on the

drivers or not. If I do, then I can't label the event I saw it at because if you were there you

know they weren't using vintage helmets.

ferrari art

Q. What's your favorite media?

Wyss: I started doing watercolors but

grew frustrated with the transparency

so I switched to acrylics which can be

both transparent and opaque depending on how much water you thin them out with. Some

of my works are collages, in that I will cut out parts of other paintings I've already done and

glue them into a new painting so those would have to be called "mixed media." I don't sell

the originals, though, only the prints, so it's difficult to tell from the print if the original was

all one sheet or whether it’s from a collage.

Q. Who are your favorite automotive artists?

Wyss: Just about everyone that’s in a very exclusive group called the "Automotive Fine

Arts Society." I think Ken Dallison is the best in watercolors, then I like Jay Koka for his

willingness to change styles, and Harold Cleworth for his paintings that look stronger

froma distance—a result of his early training doing billboards--and then there’s Nicola

Wood for her subtleties in her Cadillac paintings. I would say the AFAS show at Pebble

Beach is my favorite day of the year.

ferrari art

Q. When you shoot pictures for

reference, what camera and lens

would you recommend?

Wyss: I abandoned film cameras a

couple of years ago but still am getting

used to digital.

One problem is that the lens on my Canon is a bit wide angle. The closer you get to a car

the more dramatic the car looks but then the painting isn’t wide enough to become a

gallery-wrapped canvas (where some of the image wraps around the back). And I’ve lost

the telephoto advantage I had with a film SLR but eventually I will get a digital SLR and be

able to shoot telephoto again.

Q Is there a specific time of day you like to shoot?

I used to favor mornings but now, because of fog, I prefer late afternoon particularly if it is a

sunny day. The problem is, most car events –like concours d’elegance --end too early say

at 4:30 pm while the light is just starting to get good at 6:30 pm, when the show is long

over! So the opposite tack is to go there in the morning but at some shows, it’s all foggy at

6:30 a.m.

wyss ferrari art

Q. Where do you see car art going

value-wise?

Wyss: Except for a handful of artists

like Geo Hamm, in the world of fine

art, any painting depicting a car used

to be shunted off to a back tributary

as if somehow depicting a motorcar made the painting “unworthy.” Then in 2007 Jack

Vettriano’s painting of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird at Bonneville land speed car sold for

over 600,000 British pounds Sterling. I think that sale had some impact in the fine arts

community, where the dealers who had a prejudiced view of automotive art had to readjust

their view, and realize that depictions of cars are not just for who they envision as

uncultured car people. There are many connoisseurs of the fine arts who also collect

automobiles like Ralph Lauren who also collect car art. I predict there will be more almost

million dollar sales of individual examples of automotive art in the next decade and at that

time finally automotive artists will get some respect.

Q. What about commissions?

Wyss: I recently did a 16” x 20” on canvas of a 365GT 2 –plus-2 for an owner. Before that I

was commissioned to do a 275GTB. So I am open to commissions for paintings on

canvas.

Q. Where can we find your work?

Wyss: My big event of the year is at "Monterey Car week." I will have a booth at Concorso

Italiano at the Blackhorse golf course in Seaside on Saturday where I will have both

canvases and prints on watercolour paper. I also have a dealer—Albaco—who stocks my

prints on paper.

Q. Where can clients reach you?

Wyss: I am reachable at my e-mail at Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

(Artwork and all images Copyright Wallace Wyss)

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