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An interview with Jonny Ambrose

I first discovered Jonny's Ambrose work in a magazine about classic cars, and I was struck by his gorgeous shape design, insistence on detail and his vision with which it creates an impressive project just by isolating a particular part of a car. This interview was the result of the need to know more about him and his works of art. In addition to the artistic excellence of his artwork, reading the interview, you will understand that he is an delightful speaker.

I hope you enjoy his interview and his work as much as I do!

Tell us a little about your background…What did you study?

I had first wanted to be an architect, as I always saw buildings as huge sculptures. In the early 1990s, I studied a BA Honours Degree in Fine Art, at Nottingham Trent University. I was one of the few who spent many hours in the woodwork and metalwork machine areas, and I loved every minute of it.

After graduating, my large racecar themed artworks were exhibited in Glasgow and then inside the Donington Park Grand Prix Museum. The largest sculpture was 7 feet long.

From there, I entered the BRDC Young Motoring Artist Award, pipped by painter Tim Layzell in 1995. I then was invited to exhibit in London, Frankfurt, and annually at various race meetings, Silverstone, Goodwood Festival of Speed.

A successful career in the games industry creating digital artwork, which rapidly took all my time away from creating my personal art. After co-founding a studio in 2002 which went onto create Guitar Hero, I returned to my first love of sculpture full time in 2016.

I was longing to create tactile 3D artworks again, after the years of making screen based digital art within games – art that you couldn't touch.

I have since created the Octane trophies for prestigious USA based The Quail car concours events, exhibited at London's Royal Automobile Club, The Historic Motoring Awards, Retromobile Paris, along with many commissions for private clients and businesses.

Why are you so passionate about sculpture?

Seeing into, through and around a work of art is important for me. A 3D sculptural form offers many compositions when you view it from various angles. It always gives something new to the viewer. Part of the enjoyment of making, is finding these compositions for oneself.

Fuch Darts, 2019. Unique piece. The iconic Fuch wheel design, synonymous with Porsche, depicted in a power-slide with black shards as streaks of speed.

Did your upbringing influence your work?

People and experiences shape you. My mother always liked motor racing, and my father had dabbled in racing, and had owned various small British sports cars in the 60's. He left when I was very young, but I was lucky my Grandfather was very practical, making things, fixing things, and showed me how to use tools, teaching me skills that I never forgot.

From childhood, I was always fascinated by cars and racing; Not just for the speed and the sporting duels, but also for the race graphics, the mechanicals, and also the racetracks and landscapes that the cars raced through.

My interest in cars has grown into owning classic cars. I love driving what I see as 'living automobile sculptures'; a 1970 Lamborghini Espada, 1972 JPS Lotus Europa and 1974 Porsche 914.

When did you make your first sculpture?

This may sound bizarre but at the age of 4 at playschool. I remember being allowed to hammer three pieces of wood together with nails. It was the carefree seventies! I still have the 'sculpture', and it reminds me of the airbox from a Lotus 72 racecar, but I think that was just luck rather than judgement at the time!

What inspires you?

Exploring ideas and creating new 3D forms inspires me the most. I draw this inspiration from various subjects that fascinate me: vehicles, mechanisms, aerodynamics, graphics, design, blueprints and landscapes. I try to think of new ways to portray these subjects as works of art.

Although a passion for cars and motor-sport are themes in my work, the elegant artworks are abstracted so the automotive subject is not easily recognisable.

I like to create intrigue, for people to decipher my puzzle of lines and shapes within the works.

My stylised pieces have a wide appeal for everyone in any home; seen as elegant abstract art and for the blend of beautiful materials. Those who know their cars, recognise the sculpture's subject.

What mediums do you work with?

Wood is the constant material throughout most of the works. It is foremost, beautiful, but also versatile to create forms with. I like to juxtapose the wood with metals, composite materials and carbon fibre. The balance between materials, tones and textures is important.

What techniques do you employ to get the results you want?

Steam-bending is a key process, allowing wood to be bend or twisted into beautiful shapes. However, I mix this traditional technique with modern digital processes too, such as using CAD to design sculptures, and 3D printing for creating some elements that otherwise couldn't be created.

Rouen Les Essarts, 2019. Unique piece. The epic French Grand Prix circuit at Rouen was a daunting track, sweeping down one valley side and up the other. The landscape’s contour lines are represented by the thermo formed white composite in 20 metre increments, The track is represented by the Walnut, where the track width and topology is represented accurately to scale.

What is the most challenging about the process?

Steam bending is simple in theory but complex shapes require complex moulds to be created first, to bend the wood around. It all takes time, and sometimes the wood will be bent too far and break, but when it goes well, the results are worth it.

What is your favorite tool?

One is the brain for conjuring up ideas, although this means times of insomnia when my mind wants to create ideas, but I want to sleep. The other is a pencil, for drawing out ideas, and marking out designs onto materials.

What are your favorite sculptures you have made?

My favourite is one called 'Langheck' based on a long-tail Porsche 917 racecar, where the wood bend and twisted with the imaginary airflow over the car. It now lives in a private collection in Australia.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

The radio! I work alone in my workshop studio, so listening to BBC Radio 6 music keeps me motivated.

What are you working on now and what are your plans for the future?

I am working on another commission, this time based on a Jaguar XK120 for a client in the USA. Some new much larger sculptures are being created but it is a big project that I can't announce yet.

I have various exhibitions coming up in the coming months, ending the year with a big show in London in November.

Do you create sculptures after customer wish?

Many clients come to me with a theme, a rough idea, but I always try to design a sculpture that goes way beyond that, to create a stunning work that creates a 'wow', keeps the client intrigued and to admire each time they view it.

What obstacles do you face in making and exhibiting your work?

Time, or the lack of it!

Making sculptures takes time but it's everything else which takes equally as long: designing, sourcing quality materials, marketing, travel to exhibitions.

Headin to Stuttgart this year to exhibit was a long way to drive, to setup my stand walls, to mount my works, but was worth it and always great to meet new people who love my style of art.

My work is always exhibited with other automobile artists at the Caffeine & Machine Gallery near Stratford Upon Avon, England.

Jonny Ambrose

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