After 8 months work, unveiled at Autosport International Show 2019 here is my homage to the greatest icon that F1 will ever see, to mark 25 years since his passing, May 2019. No.1 life-size bronze is now owned by McLaren and sits in the VIP reception above the main door at MTC Woking, igniting a 7 year project to celebrate McLaren’s work champions.
160kg of raw bronze in the dynamic of Eau Rouge into Radillon, cast by the most prestigious foundry in the world. Over the coming year or so we will be creating an official Instituto Ayrton Senna approved edition of 3 life size to mark world titles, 41 wind tunnel size (60%.. about 1m long) to mark F1 race victories. Each will be named after a specific race victory. And also 106 white acrylic versions at 30cm long, marking race entries. I’m donating two of the bronzes to Instituto Ayrton Senna for them to auction.
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I know some of you know this back story but for anyone who is interested in the full story behind my concept and the stages of work to get to the finished statue, here you go;
I first created artwork for Bianca Senna and Instituto Ayrton Senna to mark 20 years since Ayrton’s passing, an oil painting which was auctioned for the charity by Bianca in London. Almost since then I’d been thinking how I could create something truly next level to mark 25 years.
I’d also been trying to think how to utilise a system my photographers were developing to create 3D images and models by knitting together hundreds of 2D images. And the fact that they are rather handily in the same building of a huge bronze foundry that Damien Hirst uses for everything, 20 miles from where I’m based in Cheltenham. We were thinking along the lines of capturing my F1 component sculptures in this way to make smaller bronze editions of them before I had the eureka moment of capturing a figure to actually make the sculpture from scratch.
We believe no-one has ever done this before, from photography directly to a bronze statue usually white light scanning is used for 3D scanning, but that would be impossible for a shape of this scale, position and complexity. The MD of the foundry indeed called it a watershed moment when it came out of the cast.
My painting style is to create as much dynamic as possible from a stationary image, and it was vital for me to portray that in a bronze statue too. I’d been thinking for a while too to paint a driver floating in driving position, it’s a position alien to most and even many F1 fans don’t appreciate how extreme it is, even back in the 90’s, although more so now. If there’s one thing I am happiest about with this statue is the dynamic and balance of the position.
My logic was that if I can sit on the floor and momentarily balance in that position then it should balance in bronze too. The foundry guys were less sure, even though the inherent strength of bronze mean that literally any position is possible in a 10mm bronze shell it still needs to balance, and the weight distribution could need tweaking to be stable on the relatively narrow plinth which was vital to my vision. Turns out the centre of gravity is exactly the same in bronze.
My A-Level design project in 1992 included an at the point early photo manipulation of me on a bike, with the bike taken out, floating in the air. (giving you any ideas if you’re reading this Wiggo? ;o)
Ayrton said in 1993 ‘If you take away Eau Rouge, you take away the reason why I do this’, so it was my thought to mark this most iconic section of track with the pose of the figure, left – right – up hill, accelerating hard, back end trying to kick out.
I collect F1 memorabilia myself and already had a helmet painted by the same workshop in Sao Paulo who painted Ayrtons Lids, and an official replica McLaren race suit from 1991. Slightly serendipitously I’m the same height and shoe size as Ayrton was, maybe a few kg heavier but the same build. All official replica kit is in his size, and for my concept it needed to fit perfectly, cue several months training hard on a low carb diet! So it was me adopting the pose to be photographed and holding that position for minutes at a time is for sure the first actual suffering I have ever done for my art. The more we had to re-shoot, trying to hold a completely static mid sit-up at an angle, the more I started shaking, and therefore throwing the cameras out, meaning we had to do it again and again over several days, until we had the majority of 400 images lining up precisely.
One tip if by some random twist of the fabric of the universe you too find yourself dressed head to toe as Ayrton Senna one day; Don’t look in the mirror. It will freak you out for days. But jesus did it bring home the level of reverence needed with this project.
So from there the 3D model was reworked to pull out the logo’s, as well as the ubiquitous helmet stripes to make sure that it still screamed SENNA even in a monotone bronze. And another eureka moment with the visor adding grooves to look like reflections, something else translated from how I usually work in oil paint.
Without going into extensive detail of the next 4 months (which we expected to take us 4 weeks) the eventual 3D printed model was then resurfaced in clay, and texture detail added.
Holding the wind tunnel size model too. For anyone who isn’t a massive F1 fan, teams often develop aerodynamic models at 60% size for easier/cheaper wind tunnel testing until they get close to the final design. Don’t overthink what is happening in this image by the way, it quickly gets weird.
And from there it’s chopped into castable chunks and formed in wax, complete with internal piping to pour the molten bronze in and allow the melted wax out. And yes, I had Batman working on this – told you they were good!
Casting bronze being a fairly violent process, there’s lot of work to refinish what comes out of the cast.
Almost finished and offering up to the plinth, industrial hoists needed to move around the foundry when joined back together. Nothing compared to the scale of some of Hirst’s ‘Treasures of the wreck of the unbelievable’ bronzes that I’ve seen created here through this year though… literally the size of a bus some of them.
Working on the model for the smaller acrylic editions, to nail the table top plinth position. The epitome of combining groundbreaking technology and the traditional ‘cardboard spacing method’ ha! 3 pin plug socket for scale.
The first wind tunnel size bronze being patinated and heat treated to seal it a contemporary slate grey. Being totally honest, I couldn’t decide between this and shot blasted raw bronze finish. So there will be some of both.
And me being being me, I just had to paint it didn’t I! Photography into 3D model, printed, wax cast, bronze cast and then that photographed is a rather a convoluted way to get a reference image. And still having to do the colour/shading translation in my head. Pretty sure that will be a world’s first too ha! Full circle.
It’s a very strange feeling to create a celebration of your own personal hero, that will far outlive yourself. When you have a few minutes here’s some footage captured during the creation of my life size Ayrton Senna statue, with the incredible team at the world’s most prestigious foundry, Pangolin Editions. A far more involved, messy and even violent process than many would envisage.
Announcing release of 1/5th scale solid resin Senna
Using the same model as the life-size bronze that is on permanent display at McLaren HQ in Woking, here’s a limited edition 1/5 scale version! Solid resin, 2kg 35cm long, painted bronze. Limited to 161 piece representing Ayrtons race start tally. With a numbered plaque and in a Paul Oz presentation box.
Available through your usual Oz gallery – or please email email@example.com if you don’t know of one and we can advise where to get one.
Below with a full size helmet for scale.
Taking Senna home now with a view of the lake at MTC
So this was way more humbling than I’d given thought to. Having been focused on the fair challenge of moving 160kg of bronze around in a hire van, trying to coordinate the foundry with Brazilian TV and with management at McLaren HQ, it had kind of escaped me just what I was doing.
Unwrapping the life size bronze on the famous boulevard at McLaren, next to Ayrton’s 1990 championship winning car, there was a very real sense of bringing him home. A lump in the throat. And a dream culmination of my most ambitious project by a long long way.
Then someone pointed a camera at me 2.5 million views of this clip between McLaren and F1’s social pages in 24hrs!
Watch the unwrapping below
I’ve always said through my career that nothing great is possible without an incredible team of people around you. And this project is the perfect illustration of that. It’s not the culmination of the journey but most definitely a massive step in a very exciting direction. Right from the get go the reaction from my photographers and the MD of the foundry when I sat on the floor of their board room and demonstrated my idea, was indicative of the positivity and excitement from everyone involved.
So, first of all massive thanks to Steve and Ashley at Steve Russell Studios for many days, weekends and evenings exhaustively trialling and perfecting the techniques to capture the image data to make this possible. And for all of the image and video footage shown above.
To all of the huge team of specialists at Pangolin Editions – Steve Maule, Andrew Flint and Joseph Carpenter especially, who just ‘got it’ immediately, and were very tolerant of a high maintenance artist insisting on the near impossible.
And to all of you guys, anyone who bought artwork in the last few years inadvertently helped fund the project! The positivity from the few of you who I’d let more detail out to was vital when I was investing the best part of a year and huge sums of money into my dream project. That I managed to self fund the whole thing from painting pictures I’m particularly proud of lucky that, because if reliant on banks I can tell you that it wouldn’t have happened.
Right then, lets doooo this Autosport!