The Senna sculpture. Surely the most publicised item to come out of this year’s Autosport International Show at the Birmingham NEC, by both fans and the motorsport media assembled there. The attention surrounding the life-size bronze figurine is very much deserved, as anyone who has heard of the artist Paul Oz knows that he is a self-confessed F1 fan who combines his love of the sport and the icons within it with his work, the result being an output that is packed with energy and passion.
Paul has been a regular feature at ASI each year with his paintings and sculptures, and this year chose the venue to launch his Senna bronze, marking the 25th anniversary of Senna’s death, with the Instituto Ayrton Senna. The work was unveiled on the first day of the show, and on display throughout all 4 days.
Paul describes the 160kg work as “a homage to the greatest icon that F1 will ever see”, and it was clear by the reactions of visitors to the show that it was equal to that task when watching their reactions when viewing it.
Senna is positioned in the dynamic of Eau Rouge, one that recreating outside of a car was slightly uncomfortable, as Paul shared with me when we spent some time discussing alongside the sculpture together.
“It was me that got dressed up, and then instead of 3D scanning, which isn’t possible for a shape this large and complex, it took 400 photo knitted together to create the 3D model. That has never been done before anywhere in the world with the finished item being a bronze.”
Paul explains that he is the same height and shoe size as Senna, so the sizing of the sculpture is about as perfect as it can be.
“The most important thing to me was the dynamic and for it to look alive. You see him going round the corner, flicking out, balancing on the throttle, but at the same time, the helmet is completely straight, looking forwards, flat, so it doesn’t matter what the body or the car is doing, the helmet is always forward.”
Paul makes the side to side movement as if he is Senna driving through the legendary section of the Spa Francochamps track. “Left, right, uphill. The feet are a little higher than they should be for this era of car, but for the dynamic of it, it was important to me to get the feet up a bit, with Eau Rouge being uphill.”
It is clear from examining Senna closely that Paul’s usual eye for details has worked well in even bringing the race suit itself to life. “From the 3D model, we pulled some of the logos out and recessed some of the others based on what colour they were. You can see black is recessed, and white is pulled forwards typically.
“We’ve added some stripes to the visor because it just looked too solid. It’s weird as it’s the most see-through part of the thing, but it looked the most solid, so it’s added some reflection. When I paint a helmet, that is what I would do for the visor, swipe straight through it, and it has worked a treat.”
“The stripes on the helmet are different depths as well just to pull them out a bit to give definition to the different colours, as trying to make it scream “Senna” when it in monotone is quite difficult.”
We look closely at the hands of the sculpture. “He was the first driver to turn his gloves inside out because then you have the seams on the outside and they don’t rub your hands. Stand 21 started making them that way, then a few years later when the kit supplier changed to OMP, they continued the trend”. Paul tells me that the gloves he wore for the modelling session were OMP gloves.
As for where the sculpture will become resident, the hope is that it will be alongside many of Senna’s heritage cars on the boulevard of the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey, a natural home for it, many would think.
“I’m hoping it will be at McLaren. Zak (Brown) has been really positive about it so far – we will see what he thinks when he sees it! I offered one to the Institute as a thank you for letting me use their name and for officially approving it, and they have actually asked for two smaller ones of the wind tunnel size.”
Paul plans to have a wind tunnel sized version on show at every F1 Paddock Club throughout the 2019 season. “The wind tunnel one that we have here at the show has been patinated in slate grey rather than leaving it bare bronze, so it’s maybe more McLaren in grey.” That patination process also required the sculpture being heat treated to seal it.”
Paul also tells me that he is planning on making some smaller, acrylic resin versions.
Despite it having been his focal project for many months now, Paul still seems to enjoy looking at the sculpture. “I just love how you don’t need to know anything, that still screams Senna at you” he says. And he is so very right!
I ask Paul about his inspiration for the 8 month project. “It was a combination of two things. Firstly, trying how to utilise what my photographers were developing, this 3D scanning method. I was actually aware of it because my photographer went to Kenya for a month to capture the last living white rhino, so at the foundry where this was cast, there is a twice life-size white rhino! That is when he was just getting to grips with how to do it, and we pushed the boundaries with the detail in this. So I was half thinking, how do I incorporate what they do into what I do, and then…I paint racing drivers so, we were thinking of the early Red Bull Skullptures and Ferrari sculpture ‘do we 3D scan those in, and make small versions of them?’”
“Then, I was flicking through my A level design coursework from 1992, and I found a picture of me on a bike going around a corner, where I took the bike out. You couldn’t do cloning in 1992, but you could copy part of the picture and put it on top of another one, so I was in the road but it was me floating in thin air going around the corner! I though ooh, we could paint a driver like that! Then I thought sod it, I don’t have to paint it, we can make a driver like that!”
“Literally the next week, I was sat on the floor in the board room of the foundry showing them that this was what I wanted to do, in that position, and they all chuckled and said that’s amazing, let’s do it!”
The foundry that Paul mentions is the Pangolin Foundry in Stroud, one world renown for working alongside some of the foremost sculptors of our time, such as Damien Hirst and with a staff of 300. (http://www.pangolin-editions.com/) . Paul recalls that his sculpture was quite a popular one amongst the workforce. “Apparently they were all keen to work on the Senna, as there were quite a few middle aged blokes who liked a bit of racing!”
So what next for Paul? Following up on his successful 80’s Kid exhibition in 2015, Paul is now working on the paintings for 80’s Kid 2, and that seems somewhat of a challenge, not to complete the painting, but rather to narrow down the list of potential subjects!
Ecto-1, A-Team van, Knight Rider, DeLorean, General Lee, Herbie. But only scope in the show to choose 4. How on earth am I meant to choose 4 from that lot!? How AWESOME were the 80's?!
— Paul Oz (@PaulOz) January 8, 2019
We look forward to seeing what he ends up with. After that, Paul will be off on his travels again and coming to an F1 Paddock Club near you!