Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gearhead, wrench, artist

Mark in the Corvair archives

As a matter of course, I write about people I don’t know here. I see a unique vehicle; I chase it down, photograph it, and interview the owner. Today, I’m writing about a good friend.

Mark and I met in art school back in the early 70s. He was studying Industrial Design, making sculpture for fun. And fixing up Corvairs. He was driving a primer white one then, with no interior trim except for the dashboard, driver’s seat, and - when you were lucky - a seat for you.

Ralph Nader would have been horrified. In fact, Mark’s license plate said it all; “UNSAFE”.

After a gap of some 30 years, I have had the pleasure of getting back in touch with Mark. He is still doing things his own way. (“Well, I lack any adult supervision”, he points out.) It struck me as ironic that he has worked for many years at Johnson Controls, testing and trouble-shooting automotive seats and interior parts.

And he’s still fixing up Corvairs. And Camaros, and ‘Vettes. And Chevy pickup trucks.

Mark has the skills to take a car completely apart, and the vision to then re-assemble that pile of parts. Each part, no matter how mundane, is cleaned, straightened, refinished before it is assembled into a complete, drivable vehicle. A work of art – industrial design and sculpture.

In the process, he has collected what he calls “The Archive” of Chevrolet parts from the 60s, mainly Corvair, some of which you see here. It may look as though these parts are just piled up randomly. They are not. Virtually every part is tagged and cataloged, hardware bagged and attached, and many carry Mark’s hand-drawn diagrams illustrating how this particular component attaches to its neighbors to eventually form an entire automobile.

Mark says he has enough Corvair parts to assemble “at least two really nice ones.” Which he might do, when he is finished restoring the 1953 Chevy pickup in the garage. And rebuilding his 1923-vintage wood frame house.

Mark took some time from all this restoration to collaborate with me on a photographic exposition of human expression through the automobile for a School of Art Alumni Show, and it was a gas to work with him.


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