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The art of the automobile: Back to the ’80s

From DeLoreans to Ferraris, GTA impresario Grant Thomas captures the beauty of 1980s classics.

Published November 16, 2012

Outside the art gallery, the pair of classic cars with gull-wing doors — a DeLorean and an even rarer Canadian-built Bricklin SV-1 — offered a tantalizing preview of what was ahead.

Inside was a treasure trove of DeLorean artwork — charcoal sketches of garage scenes, vector renderings of the famous doors in painstaking detail — smattered among oil-painted Ferraris, watercolour Lamborghinis, graphite-drawn race cars, and much more.

This is the work of Grant Thomas, an automotive artist based in the GTA who has been active in his field for nearly 25 years. His one-man exhibit, titled The Art of the Automobile, is on display now at the Framing Dames Art School and Gallery in Scarborough and runs until today.

Given the frequency with which the DeLorean appears as a subject in his work, the beginnings of Thomas’ passion for drawing cars should come as no surprise.

“It was a movie,” he says, “Back to the Future. I got really interested in the DeLorean — read all about it, bought the books, and all this — and I was really fascinated by that car.

“It’s very ’80s, and I’m a big fan of the ’80s. The doors were especially unusual, so that and the stainless steel finish on it make for a very visually interesting painting.”

The DeLorean Motor Company’s well-known (and quick) demise led Thomas to expand his inspirational horizons.

“It was a very difficult car to either see or find in the area,” Thomas recalls of the DeLorean. “Ferrari and Lamborghini are very expensive, but at least they have a dealership to go to.

“Without a DeLorean to actually see, it fell down the ladder of interest over the years and was replaced by the Italians, Lamborghini and Ferrari — Ferrari especially.”

These days, Thomas dedicates the vast majority of his time to automotive art, but that wasn’t always the case.

“Art was always a passion of mine,” he recalls. “It was always my best subject in high school. I always enjoyed drawing, whether it was with pencil or with ink. It was mainly drawing at an early age, simple things like landscapes. Painting didn’t come until later.

“After high school, I made the decision to go into illustration at Sheridan College. I got accepted there, and that really helped fuel the passion.”

Thomas graduated second in his class and went on to be a commercial artist for 22 years while continuing his work in automotive art on the side. After making a name for himself, he was able to dedicate his career to his automotive art full-time and hasn’t looked back.

Thomas takes great pride in the fact that he always works either from his own photographs — which he treats as an art form in their own right — or from drawing live scenes.

He has also been branching out in his use of media (as in the substances an artist uses to create work) over recent years. At his exhibit, the pieces on display range from charcoal and graphite sketches to watercolour, acrylics and oils on canvas, and some computer-rendered vector artwork.

“I always try and keep my watercolours my forte,” Thomas states. “That’s what I want to be known for. But I like branching out and seeing what else I can do, especially with larger works. It makes for a nice variety.”

Some particularly striking pieces in Thomas’s current collection feature some sheet metal cuttings overlaid on very colourful, splashy canvas backgrounds. Thomas found his inspiration for these pieces in the same place he makes many of his most valuable connections: the Internet.

“I posted a graphic silhouette image of a Ferrari (on an online forum),” Thomas recalls, “and that brought me to a person in the States that had access to a plasma cutter.

“He said, it would be cool if we could do a work together. I could cut (the image) out of metal and you could come up with something on canvas. We did about five or six of them in that series. I had a great time coming up with a few different ideas.”

The internet has also been invaluable to Thomas in connecting with potential clients in the digital age. He regularly posts sketches to his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/GrantThomasArtStudio) to offer previews of his upcoming works. It’s not uncommon for pieces to be sold before they reach completion.

Thomas’s work has garnered numerous recognitions, including four awards won over five years at the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s juried art show at the Canadian International AutoShow. Two of his watercolours have also won awards, first and second prize, at juried shows at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.

He is the official photographer of the Ontario DeLorean Owners Club, and his photography has appeared in DeLorean World magazine and in the Ferrari Club of America’s membership newsletter.

Grant Thomas’s solo art exhibit, Art of the Automobile, runs until today at Framing Dames Art School and Gallery at 362 Old Kingston Rd. in Scarborough.

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