One of the true joys of working for ArtÓ is the opportunity to build close relationships with our artists. Getting to know them as individuals and exploring the inspiration behind their work is a core part of our philosophy. Visiting artists in the studio to see where the magic (and hard work) happens is one of the most exciting elements.
In August the ArtÓ team went behind the scenes with Formula One chief mechanic turned carbon fibre sculptor Alastair Gibson and the Carbon Art 45 team to see art in action. In October I was back to get up close and personal with the carbon fibre myself. To feel the weave between my fingers and find out just what goes into producing Gibson’s engineering inspired sculptures.
My task would be to create a 2-ply carbon fibre jig, used as a guide for cutting incisions and adding paint detail on Gibson’s new limited edition Hammer Pup sculpture. Simply put, I would be building up two layers of carbon fibre sheets on a pattern tooling block. But as I have come to discover with Gibson’s sculptures, the delight is in the detail.
Before getting anywhere near the carbon fibre I headed into the ‘Dirty Room’ to prepare the pattern tooling block. A misnomer if ever there was one, everything in the Dirty Room is meticulously organised. It all happens under the watchful eye of ‘Margarita’ in a provocative painting depicting the Porsche 917 Pink Pig from the 1971 Le Mans 24-hour race.
The pattern tooling block needed polishing and blasting with air to remove any impurities before having a mould release agent applied. This ensures the resin-coated carbon fibre can be peeled off the block successfully once cured overnight in an autoclave. It’s a therapeutic activity – apply the agent, wipe away, repeat. Three times in total.
Back at the workbench with the now ready to use block, it was time to get the carbon fibre out of the freezer (where it is stored at -20 to stop the resin curing) and start the lay-up process. Encountering the sheets of carbon fibre was like coming face to face with giant rolls of Jus-Rol pastry, except you need a scalpel blade to cut it to size and not a butter knife.
Staying true to the life-size shape of the hammerhead pup as you add the layers of carbon fibre on the pattern tooling block involves meticulous precision and concentration. You truly get a feel for its anatomy as you work. I now feel intimately connected with a hammerhead’s mouth – I dearly hope only in an out of water context.
As you build up the individual layers of carbon fibre for the jig (with an additional stage for the lip edge) it needs to be vacuum sealed in a debulk bag each time to ensure a completely smooth finish. Air is added back in and removed as needed to ensure a tight seal in every nook and crevice. Gibson’s team prepare the bags themselves and test the seal before sending pieces for curing in the autoclave.
And this is just to create the jig. For one side of the sculpture. Not the finished artwork. It’s a painstakingly detailed yet intensely satisfying undertaking. When you see Gibson’s finished pieces, they exude perfection and expert execution. There’s a huge amount of effort involved to create a seemingly effortless end result and being involved hands on engenders a huge respect for the workmanship involved.
Like Gibson I am a fan of seeing something through to the end, so I was delighted to deliver my completed jig in person to Crosby Composites, Britain’s leading carbon fibre manufacturer, for curing in their autoclave. For the uninitiated it was like stepping inside NASA and there was a tangible thrill to peering inside the space-age autoclave which is a work of art in itself.
In art, as in engineering, there is always room for failure. I’m pleased to report however that my jig came out of the autoclave the next day in good working order and received the seal of approval from Gibson and the Carbon Art 45 team. It was a privilege to be part of their world for the day and huge thanks are due to the infinitely calm and patient David for guiding me through the fascinating journey.
See our current collection of Alastair Gibson artworks:
Limited Edition Prints