There is a long history of famous artists who had interesting day jobs before going on to pursue a full-time career in art. Amongst others, Ai Weiwei was a Professional Blackjack Player, Jackson Pollock made money from babysitting, and Paul Gauguin was a Stockbroker. Cape Town-based aviation and motorbike artist Justin Zimmerman spends his days at the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratory working as a Forensic Image Enhancement Analyst. “I started my post student life in the police force as a forensic artist. I drew pictures of criminals faces while doing wildlife pastels and custom airbrushing of motorcycle helmets in my spare time. Some people are late starters, and I am no exception.
“I was in my late thirties when I read an American aviation magazine which featured an article about aviation artist Troy White. Troy claimed that passion was everything and even more important than technical prowess. Having two huge passions being aircraft and motorcycles, I finally discovered what it was that I wanted to paint.”
Justin started by spending time at the SAAF Museum, sketching the various aircraft on display. “I bought photos of the SAAF P-51 Mustang and Spitfire (which were both flying at the time), from the Zwartkop AFB museum, which started me off on my path to oil painting. My first dozen or so paintings ended up in the bin, but it didn’t deter me one little bit, I wasn’t doing it for money, I was having fun!
He works on his art at night, over weekends and during his leave. On weekends he starts painting at around 6.30 am and paints for the entire day. “I take breaks when I take the dog for a walk or go for a ride on my motorbike and then have lunch. I find these breaks in the open air clears my mind and recharge the batteries.”
Justin’s inspiration comes from Georges Remi (better known as Herge’, the creator of Tintin), British aviation artists Robert Taylor and Mark Postlethwaite, and South African aviation artist Darryl Legg. “My move toward doing more motorcycle than aviation art was inevitable for two reasons: I’ve been a passionate motorcyclist since the age of 18, and still ride my superbike every weekend. The market for aviation art in South Africa is very, very small. In fact, 70% of my aviation art has been sold to overseas clients.”
Painting history is difficult, with reference sources being limited. Reading tons of books, viewing videos, and interviewing the primary sources of information (the combat pilots themselves), is essential in getting the ‘feel’ as well as getting the facts correct.
To me, the real ‘award’ in art is to have happy clients. People who have been blown away by such an extent that they cannot stop talking about it.”
Excerpt taken from article in SA Artist Issue #47.