words by pablo deferrari art by tom havlasek
You’d think every single one of his garments has some sort of souvenir from each of his pieces, but that’s not the case. He’s set aside clothes that are already stained for just such a purpose. But when he’s out on exhibition, a different side of him emerges. That’s when you’ll see him wearing his signature dark glasses.
“Oh yes, I wear always wear them…everywhere. I hide from the public behind those dark glasses.” He laughs. But it is good to see his work now attracts the attention it deserves, not only in the arts world and galleries, but also from friends like Hans Lapine.
“Ah”, you begin to say, “…now I understand.” No, you don’t…not yet.
You see, as easy as it may seem to see the direct correlation between Tom’s work and his love of the sounds, smells, and excitement of motorsport, you’d be missing the important bits in between. Stay with me, we’re about to go in a little deeper.
Around the mid to late nineties, those of us involved in the arts saw a massive shift…analog to digital. Suddenly, without warning, our professors snuck up behind us and yanked our 2H pencils from our hands, pulled us from our drafting tables, and shoved us in front of a computer. Yep, we witnessed this change first hand…a once in a lifetime occurrence.
Tom walked out at the end of his term specializing in computerized graphic design, and got a job. But during his tenure, he held on to the handicraft way of doing things and began to ply his skills with street art, graffiti of the legal kind. This felt just right and soon enough, he began taking a shine to canvas and water-based colors because he felt there were mediums other than concrete and asphalt to explore. This was where he found a sweet spot.
“I must say that I’m not a big fan of photorealistic paintings..."
If you remember from the first paragraph, the “dirtiness” of his style is explained. The image is somewhat reduced to its most recognizable features, and intensified with a bit of sloppiness to the point where the person viewing the work knows exactly what he’s looking at. The subject is crystalized in rawness.
But starting with the old photo, Tom looks at it for a bit, and then decides exactly where he wants to clip it. He won’t necessarily copy the whole image verbatim, what he prefers doing is creating his own background that compliments the car. This is the critical part of his creative process because the composition has to be just right for it all to work together.
There are also times when a burst of inspiration or idea hits for, say, a background, and he hoofs it to the studio to put it down. This all happens very fast, much like when a photographer sees a great shot and has to take it right then and there.
Then he translates it on his signature 95cm squared canvas that he stretches himself by putting down the background first and then use a pencil to sketch in the car. He backtracks a bit and takes a moment to underscore the importance of canvas itself.
“There are two reasons for this. One, my size is a custom size and it has become a sort of signature of my work. And two, although it takes a bit of time to do this, it adds to the originality of the piece…everything is handmade, every piece has its own character.”
One would automatically think that he uses an assortment of brushes to put down the paint…he doesn’t. He may use one to begin a background, but his preferred weapon of choice is the palette knife. Think of it as a small trowel, they come in an assortment of sizes, each for a specific application. And like smearing butter on toast, he applies his colors to the canvas.
It’s a very difficult method of painting to master, but the results are stunning…it creates textures, different levels of thicknesses giving the piece a sort of 3-dimensional quality to it. If you remember what Tom said about liking “a thick coat…like plastic look” to his paintings, this is how it’s done.
He smiles when I ask him about his first piece, and if he still has it.
“If you’re talking about my first canvas piece of motorsport art, it’s the number 23 Porsche 917K of Porsche Salzburg piloted by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood…this is the one that came in first overall at Le Mans, 1970. I painted this piece over ten years ago…I still have it! Before that, there were some other paintings I did on paper sheets and wood; but yes, the number 23 Porsche was the first on canvas.”
"There’s a real rawness to this one that captures the truth of racing; the painting literally has movement as we witness Hans cornering hard."
“Hans found me through my Facebook page, and told me he loved my work. We got to chatting and then had asked if I could do a painting of his 914. Of course, I was thrilled and began working on it straightaway. It was a real treat since the 914 happens to be one of my favorites, especially the 914-6. It’s nice to see them finally being appreciated and nearly as prized as the classic 911.”
Passions like this are very difficult to factor into your life. Between having a day job, family, and all of the things that are inextricably tied to them, oftentimes, huge personal sacrifices must be made.
Tom manages pretty well, and he’s made some huge changes in his life that allow him more liberty to pursue his love. He usually works on two, three, sometimes four paintings at a time, making it difficult to calculate how long each one takes to complete. He reckons a typical painting could consume 20 hours of his time…do that math. If he allots just two hours a day, it’ll set him back 10 days—easy. Luckily, he really doesn’t keep track. One of the most difficult things for some artists to do is when to say…'done, that’s it'. I pose Tom this question.
He leans forward and says, “When I think I’m finished with a painting, I go home, you know, and think about it. Then the next day, I return to the studio and say; yea, it’s done. And then I sign it…and that’s always the day after I say it’s finished.”
His mom is one of his biggest fans. Sometimes he’ll take a painting that’s ready to go abroad, either to a client or show, and he’ll hang it in his parent’s living room for them to enjoy a few days before it’s sent off.
“Funny,” he says “I never talk about that.”
“Well, everything evolves. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have lots of ideas that I’m slowly starting to realize. Last year, for example, I did a three part series on the 1988 Le Mans Group cars that looked quite different from my signature work. These were done in a cleaner, graphic-type style, that’s a bit of a departure from the smudges, drips, and roughness I’m used to. In the next few weeks, I’d like to start a painting of the Auto Union racers and try to implement aluminum foil giving them more of an impact.
When I think about my humble beginnings of street art, 3D work, graffiti, stencil art, and stickers, I understood it wasn’t necessarily the right way to go about things. But all of the skills that I amassed from them have evolved to the more refined style I have today.”
So what does this artist, who clearly loves Porsches as they’re the most prolific in his work, have in his garage?
“I have two 944s and a 928S with a manual gearbox. I’ve always loved the marque, since childhood. My dream car is a 911…someday.”
In the meantime, we’ll be keeping tabs on Tom’s work and future exhibitions. Hell, maybe flüssig can commission him to paint one of the legendary cars borne from the humble 924; the Hugo Boss liveried 924 GTP driven by Barth and Röhrl?
You can contact him here : firstname.lastname@example.org
or on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomhavlasekart