Mike Lavallee is a world renowned airbrush artist that is best known for his ‘Tru-Fire’ method of painting airbrushed flame. Early in 2015, Lavallee toured Australia running courses as part of his ‘Burn the World’ tour. At the Sydney leg (held at Advanced Airbrush in Penrith), House of Kolor Australia caught up with the God of Fire himself to have a chat and get his thoughts on the differences between Australian and American airbrush industries.
What is your opinion on the Australian Airbrushing industry from what you have seen?
I think it’s good, but still in its infancy. I mean not really, it has come a long way since I was out here 15 years ago. You’ve got some of the finest airbrush artists in this country that I have seen.
So you have seen a marked improvement since you were here last?
Absolutely! When I first was here, all I saw was copying of the American style and American pieces because they had no reference. Now, they have gone way beyond that. Now, they have their own thing that they are doing, Australia has its own identity.
So you can actually pick out an Australian artist from the style of work?
I can definitely look at the piece and pick if it came from Australia. They’re like a rainbow of colours, everything is large and has a lot of bright colours. You look at Dan (Powers) when he does a bonnet piece, like a girl’s portrait. It will be all in pink or purple and down the side of the car it will be all blues and greens. You can’t miss it; you don’t see that in other countries.
So where do you think Australia sits against the American guys?
As I said, some of the best artists I have seen are from Australia. You got Dan Seddon, you’ve got Wayne (Harrison), Dan Powers, Darren Wenzel who lives in the States now. These are guys that I know personally, I’ve seen a lot of their work, which is really good. There’s a lot of other guys I don’t know, however I’ve seen their work and can say, ‘there’s a lot of cool stuff coming out of the Australian industry.’ It’s up to par with the American guys.
Any other differences?
One thing I do notice about Australia, there is definitely like a range war going on between the guys. It seems like down here you have all the high profile artists who have a tendency towards trying to get into pole position within the community. In America, we’re not doing all the behind your back stuff like; you suck and I’m better than you crap. Everyone has their own niche and there is plenty of work for everybody, we all have our own style. What Australian artists ought to do is not think about that, but excel in what they do. I have a saying that I use on my business page; if your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt! You don’t have to tell everyone that you are the best painter and this and that, your work will tell them who you are. You could be the greatest airbrush artist in the world, but if your attitude sucks, people don’t see the work anymore, they just see the attitude.
That’s definitely something I noticed at SEMA. On the HOK and Iwata stand you guys are all mates. People like Craig Fraser, or Steve Vandemon will sit, watch you paint and say, “That’s cool” because they’re your mates. I see a mutual respect among the industry over there.
I call it a range war, this s#@t is for the birds. It’s like there are artists out there who think they need to take over the world. Usually it’s because there’s not a lot of work and everyone is fighting to get the good jobs. As you said, if you knuckle down and master your craft, people will be looking for you to paint, not the other way around.
That’s it! I’ll tell you this, ‘your last job is your best salesman.’ Say I did that on a car (Mike points to the Phoenix bonnet), I don’t have to do anything, that car sitting by itself without the owner around with my logo on it will sell me 10 jobs. And if they are as good as that, they’ll sell me 10 more each. Then you have plenty of work. If your last job sucks, that’s your best salesman going out the door. You can do a lot more in the industry to make you a good artist, besides doing the artwork. Like being a good salesperson. Worst thing you could do is bad mouth another guy to get the job. Because if you don’t sell the job, the first thing that guy will do is run back to the other guy, give him the job and tell him exactly what you said.
We thank Mike for his time, contribution and support of the airbrush community over the years. If you ever get a chance to see Mike paint live, I highly recommend you take the opportunity, as the man is a freak!
story NATHAN JONES