They don't make them like they used to... it's an over used phrase. But when its regarding James Hunt, it couldn't be any more apt. James Hunt broke the mould in many ways, the archetypal playboy with an unnatural talent for driving fast and winning races, almost despite his character and attitude rather than because of it. One of the most iconic stars and captivating personalities in the history of Formula One, and thanks to the latest in the series of McLaren commissioned bronze statues, I have now indeed, made one like they used to.
Today, marking 30 years today since the 1976 world champions life was tragically cut short, a life-size bronze complete with toeless boots, jaunty podium cap and cigarette in hand, is unveiled at McLaren MTC Woking. It was the only way he could be.
It's been a long journey to get here... I've created several paintings of James Hunt through the years, including one that was unveiled with McLaren at Goodwood in 2013, and another which was part of my Singapore gallery show in 2014. It's over a decade already that I was privileged to see the first full showing of 'Rush' together with the whole Hunt family, six months before cinema release at a private screening in London, a day which I will always cherish. I got to know James' son's Tommy and Freddie... very different men individually but somehow I feel that if you joined them together you'd get James in every way. I got to meet their now late mother Sarah Lomax, James' wife for seven years. I can't remember most of our conversation now aside from one aspect which really stood out and focused my mind, that sometimes Freddie really unsettles her with his similarity to James physically and how he carries himself, that how when he's be doing something innocuous like making a cup of tea and leaning on the counter waiting for the kettle to boil, she has to do a double take because that's exactly how James used to posture. I remember that still word for word.
So when Zak Brown gave me the green light for the next in the series of McLaren's World Champions, to embark on the 12 month project that it would be to re-create the iconic James Hunt in bronze, I immediately messaged Freddie to say that I was going to need his help... or more accurately, I was going to need his body. For what I always aim to achieve, Freddie jumping into this project was the absolute ultimate that I have dreamt of, for accuracy, authenticity and even bona fide Hunt DNA, it couldn't be any better.
As with all my work in bronze, the foundation of the project is 3D capture of a stunt body in the relevant race suit, with an appended head that is modelled from scratch. But nothing could have prepared me for Freddie walking out of the changing room wearing his father race suit, like a re-manifestation of James... immediate goose bumps. Freddie obviously caught my expression as he nervously chuckled and threw me a sideways glance, as if to say 'Whats the problem?'
We didn't have quite all of the kit we needed at this point... McLaren didn't have a Hunt helmet in their archives for the first surprise, but I happened to already have one of the same Bell Star models that he was famed for using, to capture the basic shape. The 70's Goodyear podium cap too I already had one to base modelling on... albeit one that was slowly disintegrating. I positioned Freddie on an F1 wheel to get the height right as if he was sat on the car with a cigarette in hand, although the resulting statue would be perched unceremoniously, irreverently even, on the edge of the plinth.
We couldn't find any surviving examples of James' boots so those were modelled from images, with the toes removed because of his big feet. I will be honest we're still unsure why this was... it's recorded that he needed to remove the toes from his boots to fit into the narrow Hesketh cockpit in 1974, but this trend continued throughout his time with McLaren too, and his feet were only UK10.5/EU45... could McLaren really not design a cockpit to accommodate his feet fit still, or was this by now an idiosyncratic superstition? But anyway, it was of course imperative to include this detail, and the boot modelling was an entertaining challenge. Yes, those laces are completely bronze... even from when all the component parts were cast, it was two weeks work just to lace one boot.
Thanks as ever must go to my incredible team at Steve Russell Studios, and at Pangolin Editions, those guys really are magicians, continually pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible for the ultimate combination of cutting edge tech to refine the age old craft of lost wax casting. They're not just the best in the world, they're the only ones in the world who could achieve this, seriously. Thanks team!
At this point immediately after unveiling it is too early to fully say where you may be able to see a bronzed James Hunt... he'll live permanently at MTC although usually residing in the Hunt executive suite rather than on the Blvd permanently.... but he will be making an appearance together with his car soon. And I'm not sure if he will be at Goodwood FoS as yet. Life-size statue No.2 will be included in the collection of my work at McLaren Barcelona from around from spring next year, and I will have a 60% scale bronze with me at Silverstone for my show at BRDC Farm, which I regret won't be publicly accessible. Because yes as with my other bronzes, there will be an edition at 60% scale and 25% scale. I hope to get one to Caffeine and Machine soon too, and watch this space for further showings!
See loads of you out there at Goodwood and Silverstone! My 60th anniversary bull will be on show with Lamborghini at Goodwood, life-size Niki Lauda will be on display with Lanzante, as well as my usual showing in the retail area with Studio Prints.