David Kimbley is promoting two kinds of images these days: the intricate airbrushed cutaways on which his international reputation is based and the image of his work as technical fine art.
Kimble rejects the label ‘technical illustration as being too limiting and not completely descriptive of what he does. He says the fine art pieces he now produces are ‘what would traditionally be called technical illustration, but done with the same intent an motivation as fine art, and under the same economic situation. The pieces I do that fall into this category are commissioned by a client who buys the painting to hang on his wall as art, as opposed to something that goes into a technical manual or into an ad to sell a product.”
Kimble’s vintage auto projects are produced, he says, within an unlimited time frame. “I honestly don’t know [how long they take], and I do not want to know. I probably would never do another one if I realized exactly how long it takes to do one.” A conservative estimate would be that the actual artwork takes 400 to 500 hours to complete, preceded by many months of research.
Kimble immerses himself in the research phase of a fine art project. “I actually find myself feeling that I’m a part of that particular era,” he says. “I read books and literature from the period, and I watch films from that era on my video recorder. There’s nothing more fun than working on a Model j Duesenberg and watching gangsters running around town in big touring cars machine-gunning each other.
“lt’s a total experience; it’s escapism, but it’s also a way of really ex-periencing something about those cars. And it’s also a way for me to almost possess something 1 wouldn’t be able to possess otherwise. In order for me to really enjoy these cars, it has to be something I’d like to own. I don’t make the kind of money to buy half-million- or million-dollar cars, but I can really participate in the experience of owning them-sometimes more fully than the people who really do own them.”
But why cutaways? “I’ve never really been satisfied with the exterior of a mechanical object that I like, because the exterior i s only part of the story,” Kimble explains. “By getting into what is, in effect, anatomy and physiology, I can experience them in a lot of different ways.”
Many of Kimble’s fine art projects eventually appear in Automobile Quarterly, a prestigious hardbound collectors’ magazine. Kimble chooses the cars he will draw. “I pick the clients who have the means to commission me and the right car to motivate me.” He matches these factors to the needs of the Quarterly publisher, who showcases the artwork and the car. “lt’s understood that they won’t schedule it until I’m close to completion. We establish a deadline based on the client’s wishes and the magazine’s needs, but that deadline is never absolute-and, quite frankly, has yet to be met. I have yet to blow a normal commercial job’s dead- line, and I have yet to make a fine art deadline.”
The reason for this, Kimble says, i s that commercial jobs by definition have a specific time frame. “You have so many dollars and so many weeks to do the job. With the fine art jobs, I simply don’t allow myself to be put in that position. They roll on for as long as i t takes to satisfy myself.”
Kimble finds that he uses the same tightness of technique and level of detail in his commercial and fine art projects; he defines the difference as a matter of scope, showing more systems or sections of the car than commercial restraints would allow.
Another difference is that the fine art projects use experimental techniques. “On most commercial jobs I do a credible job, but I follow formulas; I take the safest approach. But when I do a piece of fine art, I specifically try to stay away from formulas. I try to break new ground.
“Since I have an unlimited time frame, I can afford to take the chances. With a commercial job, if I take some new approach and blow it, maybe I’ve blown a deadline or created a real problem for some-body. At the very least I’ve created a problem for myself.”
Kimble admits a strong emotional approach to the fine art projects. His total immersion in the project produces a idealized car that appears the way it did when it was new, with factory- fresh tires and original equipment even if it doesn’t have them in its current state.
This idealized realism finds its beginning in classical roots. “When I was in high school, I was very much a follower of classical fine artists such as Rembrandt, Reubens, Carvaggio-a lot of the Florentine and Flemish Renaissance painters, and also British romantic painters. In a sense, what I’m doing is to accept technology the same way that these people painted life.”