Ancient Egypt meets ’50’s Car Culture

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on July 24, 2011 by bernardcorman

I have often been inspired by picture books. This was definitely the case for some of my early explorations of conceptual automotive design. The book “Dreamcars’ by Jean Piccard had a huge impact on me. I made a point to look for other books that covered styling from what I considered the golden age of design, the postwar fifties era. One prize possession in my book collection is a soft cover car  ‘primer’ put out by Post Productions, a small publishing house based in California in the 1950’s, that covered several automotive styling related areas.  The book that I have is about ‘studio’ type styling.

Post Publications book of automotive design

There are several others put out by Post that are about custom car restyling.  These are coveted by guys in the Hot Rod hobby.

One book that had a particular kind of impact on me was a catalogue of items that were featured in a well known show of Tutankhamens’ artifacts that were on display at various museums in the mid 1970’s. Once, as I was paging through it looking at a portrait bust of Tut in gold,

Catalogue from 1976 tour of Tut artifacts

I had a flash-I saw a ‘50’s car instead of a human face (I used to have cars on the brain all the time). I called the resulting sculpture “TutanCaddy”.


This piece was very popular, I made a number of them, at least 7 or 8.  It’s currently on the list of things I’m planning to enlarge and recast.

Truculent Hero

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on July 18, 2011 by bernardcorman

Around the time I had been working on the ‘Iron Horse’ piece (a retelling of the Centaur myth) I was also thinking about comic book characters and their vehicles. I had always thought the Batmobile was very cool and fun, especially the one that Barris Kustoms had created for the ‘60’s television series. (This was a souped up and customized ‘dreamcar’ from the ‘50’s, the Lincoln Futura).

1960's era Batmobile (click to enlarge)

I started thinking that it would be interesting to create both a new superhero and the vehicle that he rode in. This is how ‘HammerHead’ came about. Since I had already spent time earlier in my career creating my own ‘retro’ styled concept cars it wasn’t hard for me to create a new vehicle. I wanted it to have some visual impact so I made it a little bit bigger than most of what I had made up til then. I have always been fascinated by hammerhead sharks and thought that would make a visually intriguing figure. I started working on a musclebound physique and studying pictures of sharks.

Making the mold for the car was a little tricky but my friend Clay Ervin had some key pieces of advice that made it work. Once every month or so the Atelier would pour some aluminum and the people that were interested could sign up to have some of their stuff poured that way. I thought this would work well for this project.

Since this was an homage to comic book art and I wanted a way to help convey this feeling, I thought it would be amusing for the title to tell part of the back story. One of my friends at the Atelier at the time was a guy named R.J. Runas. R.J. was way into comic books and sequential art so I asked him to come up with a piece of writing; a day or two later he gave me a short paragraph which I have used as the title ever since. It casts this character as a criminal which makes him more of an anti-hero.

This is the title:

“As night falls over the city of Aquaria,
the dark side awakens. The Underworld
comes out to play their sinister games.
HammerHead, the most dreaded and feared
criminal has come back to the planet to
extract his revenge on the man who exiled
him to the prison moons of Xandria…” 

This piece is part of my own permanent personal collection.  It was created in 1992


Conquering $uccess

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on July 11, 2011 by bernardcorman

Working on the Wildcat project took longer than I expected. It was a big clay and there were lots of details and places that required a lot of attention. I ended up sculpting the spoke wheels by hand and that took months. I sculpted a hexagonal patterned base for the piece to sit on and also recreated the logo I had made a rubbing of, in clay.

Wildcat Logo in Stainless Steel

Later during the production phase I had my friend in Maine cast these up in stainless steel.

One of the shows I attended around this time was an antique car auction that happens every year in Atlantic City. I usually liked to bring clay and some tools with me both to pass the time and also I’ve found it to be a conversation starter with people. At this particular event there was an obese gentleman who had the booth next to mine. Covertly I started to use him as a model; I had had an idea kicking around of a big fat man riding in a teensy little car wearing a fez a la the Shriners. When I got home I worked on this further. I cast one in bronze and then had the idea of putting him on a unicycle. This piece eventually came to be called ‘$uccess’ and was my version of a motoring mascot. (AKA a hood ornament). $uccess was a popular piece, I made a bunch of them in bronze.


The Nth of Cool Pt. 2

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 by bernardcorman

My new client was an odd duck. He was from Staten Island and while he wasn’t exactly a wiseguy per se, he wasn’t totally kosher either. In any event he explained to me that he owned a 1954 Buick Skylark, a production car that took a number of styling cues from the the 1954 Buick concept car, the Wildcat II. He commissioned me to do a rendition of it for him.

I was excited by the prospect. This car wasn’t one of my personal favorites from that period but there were plenty of cool things going on with it to make it an interesting project.

1954 Buick Wildcat II

Unfortunately since it was a lesser vehicle from the GM pantheon of that time there weren’t many pictures of it available. (This was the early ‘90’s-before the Internet made finding reference material so easy).

I did some research and found out that the car was on display at the Buick headquarters in Flint Michigan. I decided to make the drive to see the car in person. I had cultivated a contact at Buick and got permission ahead of time to examine and photograph the car.

When I got to the Buick building lobby I was stunned to discover that there were about a dozen Buick dream cars on display, from the fifties up through the early ‘80’s. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. First I set about measuring and photographing the Wildcat II. My contact in the company had told the security people what I was going to be doing so I had total access to the car. One thing I noticed as I was taking shots of the cockpit was a very cool logo between the seats. I reached in with a pencil and paper and made a rubbing.

After I was done with the Wildcat I started looking at some of the other cars on display. These were cars I had spent hours drooling over in my copy of the ‘Dream Cars’ book. And now here they were right before my very eyes! I took tons of pictures of the XP-300 from 1951 (sister car to the Lesabre) and also the 1956 Buick Centurion, another wild creation from the GM styling studios. These were two of my favorites and I hoped to sculpt them at some point.

1951 Buick XP-300 Dream Car

1956 Buick Centurion Dream Car

The Nth of Cool

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on June 28, 2011 by bernardcorman

Lead East is a New Jersey tradition. Since 1983 it’s become one of the biggest and best car shows on the East Coast. More than a car show, it’s really a celebration of the entire culture of the 1950’s. The music, the fads, the attitude of ‘cool’. All of this put together by a guy named Terry Cook. Terry was an editor in the ‘70’s for Hot Rod magazine and had other experiences in the automotive publishing industry.

By the time I got to Lead East it was a very popular event. After telling Terry what I was up to with my art I was able to rent some table space in a part of the show where vendors sold various types of things related to ‘50’s car culture.

One of the first people I met at Lead East was a big, rumpled Teddy Bear of a guy named Wayne Mauro. Wayney is a painter. He works mostly in acrylics and oils.

Motorcycle racing art by Wayne Mauro

He’s a big hearted guy whose mechanical skills are even more amazing than his brushwork. Wayney built and campaigned his own F-1 car for awhile in the ‘80’s. In case you don’t know that’s like an Indy car.

The first couple of times I was at Lead East were great. I met a lot of awesome people and my work was well received-I sold a bunch of it there.

One guy I met was a real character. He was from Staten Island. In the modern idiom he was a lot like Tony Soprano. But this was the early nineties so I didn’t have that reference point. He had a rare old Buick and was impressed with my rendition of the Buick Lesabre dreamcar. (In fact he bought a copy). He wanted to know if I was willing to take on a commission. I said sure.

Venus on Wheels Pt. 2

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on June 19, 2011 by bernardcorman

The collector that commissioned ‘Big Ass Buick’ also purchased copies of ‘CaddyCorner’ as well as the motorcycle piece I came to call ‘Iron Horse.’  His house was amazing. He was an astute collector that had many different types of things ranging from sculptural art and glass to traditional Japanese Prints and  antique vehicles. He even collected vintage cap pistols.

"The Chief," sculpture by Robert Toth

One of the art pieces he had was an amazingly beautiful bronze of a vintage Indian ‘Chief’; a legendary motorcycle from the ’40’s. I asked him who had made it and he told me it was a local  artist named Robert Toth. I looked him up and we soon became friends.

Robert is a gentle, intelligent man who’s very talented. His projects have included series of portrait busts of great classical musicians, famous politicians throughout American history as well as Hot Rod and motorcycle art. Robert was the one who told me I should start getting my work out to shows. He mentioned a car show that happened every year in northern New Jersey called Lead East. I found out that this show was put on by a promoter named Terry Cook. I called him up and asked about getting a space at the next event.

Venus on Wheels

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on June 14, 2011 by bernardcorman

While my client had asked me to sculpt a ‘57 Chevy for him, I had a standing policy not to sculpt that particular car because of what I perceived as extreme overexposure. It was such an iconic car and so reproduced artistically that I didn’t care to add my version to the pile. Also I had started thinking that a big American car should have a big, fat ass attached to it. I was attracted to Buicks from the ’50s at the time and settled on the 1955 model year to be the front part of the piece.

Since I was thinking about sculpting an overweight person, I started looking at the idea of having someone model for me. Through a woman who was caring for my kids during the day, I was acquainted with a single mom who had the body type I was looking for. I discreetly asked her if she would be interested in modeling for me. She was flattered by the request and agreed. Since her house was on my way home from the Atelier, I started stopping at her place and having her pose for me in the evenings.

Chalk it up to my general iconoclastic attitude that I would

Big Ass Buick

create something that was in complete opposition to what my client had requested. He was taken aback by what I had made but accepted it in good grace. Later that year in one of my earliest appearances at the sprawling antique automotive market that happens every fall in Hershey Pennsylvania, I had the new piece on display. A big tall guy was particularly taken by this piece. He kept stroking the rear end. Finally he looked up and said in his fine Texas drawl, “Man, that’s a big ass Buick!”  I almost fell over laughing and decided on the spot that that would be the title. I’ve been calling it that ever since and it’s proven to be one my most popular pieces.

Mysterious Machinery (Part 2)

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on June 1, 2011 by bernardcorman

I love cut away drawings and I thought it would be cool to do a cut-away sculpture. Using an illustration from a car repair textbook from the ’60s, I sculpted a very small but highly detailed engine and put it into the body of a 1959 Oldsmobile, a car I admired. I had a connection to a guy named John Hildebran up in Maine that I had met during my time there.  John ran a small foundry that cast stainless steel.

Cut-Away Oldsmobile (engine detail cast in stainless steel)

I sent him a number of the engine waxes to be cast in stainless. I cast the bodies of the cars in bronze at the Atelier.

In one of the magazines I had bought to work on the motorcycle piece, there were some cool cut-away drawings of motorcycle engines. I made some intricate line drawings from some of these pictures and thought it would be fun to make some T-shirts with these. Somehow I ended up at a small, local bike show with the shirts and some of my small bronzes. One of the people there was taken by my work, especially the piece that was the Caddy front end melded to my wife’s ass. He liked it but wanted to know if I could make it bigger, and use a ‘57 Chevy instead of the Caddoo. I said sure.

Mysterious Machinery

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on May 22, 2011 by bernardcorman

During this period of time I also worked on my own projects. A lot of my best ideas came to me in the form of images that would just pop into my head. Many times this would happen as I would be falling asleep, a time when the wall between your conscious and sub-conscious mind is low. One such image was of a man turning into a motorcycle. This idea became ‘Iron Horse,’ which of course is a retelling of the Centaur myth. Instead of half man/half horse, we have a half man/half motorcycle blend.

I bought numerous magazines with photos of bikes. I had my trusty book of weightlifters for the figure, as well as the other source material. This was a

Modern retelling of the centaur myth

Iron Horse, classic sculpture by Bernardo (click to enlarge)

 complicated piece to sculpt and also to mold up. There were molds for the seat, the back suspension/axle, and the muffler as well as the main man/motorcycle mass. Once all the pieces were put together in wax, then the task of gating, or spruing, was required.  Again this was a large and complicated procedure for this sculpture, due to all the various components that needed to be fed with the molten bronze.

Fortunately I had a friend in the spruing/ceramic shell department. His name was Shelton Jacocks Jr. He was a very cool, laid back, black guy. He helped everyone with gating questions and he helped me figure out the best approach with this one.

Welcome to the Machine

Posted in Balderdash and Bronze Casting - One Man's Life in the Arts on May 7, 2011 by bernardcorman

After several years of working in the wax chasing area I was getting tired of the department and the work. I had been honing my skills doing bronze work including teaching myself to TIG weld and chase the bronze (finish the surface).

I asked Donna Warner if I could move to the metal chasing area. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea. I had to ask her several times. At the time I started asking to move, the chasing area was run by a woman I’ll call Molly. Molly was talented and well liked in her department but she had some emotional tendencies that interfered with her ability to function appropriately. She had become involved with one of the apprentices and was having an emotional meltdown because it had come to an end. Eventually it got so bad the Atelier had to let her go.

They replaced her with a guy named Dave Martin who was a real piece of work. This guy really missed his calling as an FBI agent or a traffic cop. I could not understand what he was doing in a place like that. He had absolutely no artistic tendencies or any kind of imagination that I could see. He was a company man from start to finish, a real stooge to the front office types, another example of the political machinations of the place. I hated him.