‘One Piece at a Time’

Jonathan Brand outputs a replacement Mustang – in paper and ink.

For artist Jonathan Brand, cars have always been an important part of life.

“Cars played a pivotal part of my upbringing and the forming of my personal relationships, as well as who I am as an artist,” he says. “My grandfather built auto-assembly lines, my uncle and cousins are mechanics, and my father and I restored three antique vehicles.”

One of those restored vehicles – a 1969 Ford Mustang Coupe – would become the focus of Brand’s artistic eye, unexpectedly so.

“I originally began restoring the Mustang with the purpose of keeping it to drive. But while I was in college I realized this wasn't going to happen – so I decided to finish the body and interior and sell it to someone that could finish the rest.” The proceeds from its sale went to very good cause: Brand used the money to buy a diamond engagement ring for the woman who would become his wife.

But he never forgot about the car and the restoration process he had gone through. “The project,” he says, “became closely linked to my emerging ideals, consuming my focus. It’s an experience that, today, I continually draw from in my studio practice.” He even created a Mustang plastic model kit – “but I knew that I wanted to re-create it to scale one day.”

So, five years after the sale of the original Mustang, he began work on “One Piece at a Time,” an artistic endeavor to re-create a full-sized Mustang. But not from parts or plastic or any other traditional car-building medium – but rather from inkjet and paper.

Working entirely from photos of his original Mustang and his memory – not from any other reference or resource – Brand rendered each part of the Mustang in Rhino 3D and 3D Studio Max software. “I wanted to keep it about my experience with the original car and re-making it, rather then about the exact recreation of a 1969 mustang,” he says. He used Tama Software’s Pepakura Designer to “unfold” the renderings for two-dimensional output, and then arranged on paper and added color in Adobe Illustrator.

Then utilizing an Epson Stylus Pro 4000, acquired on Craigslist just for this project, he output all the components, with Epson inks (including matte black). He used both Hahnemühle Photo Rag as well as Canon Fine Art Bright White 330-gsm papers, and even experimented with other media along the way. Each piece was labeled and numbered. For protection, he coated each finished piece with PremierArt Print Shield – “this was really a life saver, as the matte paper-and-ink combo really scratches and mars easily without it. The Print Shield also serves to make the paper slightly waterproof, which is necessary step for an inkjet print that sits on the floor,” says Brand.

He then cut, folded, and glued the numbered and labeled shapes together, “much like a complicated, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.” Cutting was initially by hand, but he then turned to a Graphtec CE5000 vinyl cutter – “It has a laser eye that can read crop marks and perform contour cuts.” All assembly was done by hand and glued with archival PDA glue and linen tape.

Two years later, he had completed his printed Mustang. Initially installed at Hosfelt Gallery in New York City, the car was later moved to Brand’s own studio, “but I’m hoping it finds another venue.”

Of note: The title, “One Piece at a Time,” is a nod to the humorous Johnny Cash song of the same name, about a Detroit assembly-line worker who dreams of someday owning one of the Cadillacs he assembles on a daily basis, says Brand. He decides to steal a car, one piece at a time, and then reassemble it.

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