Jack "The Italian" Giachino
In the late 1940s and the early 1950s a Counterculture Art Movement was emerging in California that would quickly sweep across the nation and have its influence felt as far away as Europe. Its practitioners were not recent Art school graduates but blue collar workers and soldiers returning home from war. Their chosen media was the automobile that, combined with unbridled creativity, began an artistic phenomenon that flourishes yet today. Pioneers included the likes of Von Dutch, Ed Roth, the Barris brothers, Dean Jeffries, Joe Bailon, Tom Kelly, Larry Watson and countless others who made their own unique creations and contributions.
This movement in recent years has come to be known as the “Kustom Kulture.” It describes the art, the vehicles, fashion and music identifying the subcultures that shaped the varied interpretations as they emerged over the years. It’s all about sculptural chop top Mercs, abstract paneled low riders, Baroque free form pinstripe designs, Hieronymus Bosch style figures on automotive surfaces & clothing and everything in between. For over five decades it has been the Art that defines the counterculture movements that will forever leave their artistic impact on the history of our society.
I was born during the infancy of the movement and although I wasn’t California based, its rapid spread quickly reached the Midwest and I was an instant disciple. Because I was barely 10 years old my connection to the phenomenon was formed by reading the ”little books.” Rod & Custom, Custom Cars, Car Craft and others were read over and over again until any bit of information could be verbalized at a moment’s notice. Strengthening my early commitment to the Art was a guy on my paper route that built hot rods, my model car building, customizing pedal bikes and an inexhaustible drive to draw and create.
It seemed like forever, but I finally turned 16 and got my driver’s license. I found a 348 tri-power 58 Chevy Impala that needed to be mine but my 75 cents an hour job at a local gas station wouldn’t add enough to the money I had saved,to buy it. Having a love for cars and art I bought a single action airbrush, converted an old refrigerator motor into my compressor and started painting ”WEERDO” shirts. At $3 a shirt the money started rolling in, and soon the Impala was mine. I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack as I started the de-chroming and customizing process the day I picked it up. It turned out to be a great “American Graffiti” style custom that cruised the streets and drive-ins with the best of them.
My first full custom paint was applied to a 1950 Chevrolet sedan delivery that I bought from an undertaker for $85. Not being content with a stock look, it was lowered via chopped coils up front and lowering blocks in back. The rear wheel wells were radiused while it rested on wide whites which wrapped a set of Mickey Thompson Raider wheels to complete the stance. I wanted the base to be bright yellow but Detroit was pushing the pastel look at the time so I turned to John Deere tractor yellow. It gave me the eye popping effect that I was after. The final touch was a full blown front to rear seaweed style flame job that was executed with 20 cans of metal flake green spray paint. No one in town had ever seen anything like it and I think some people silently wondered if I had finally gone over the edge.
In the mid 60’s I decided to hone my art skills and entered Northern Michigan University. Four years later I received a Bachelor of Arts degree and started,what would be a long run of teaching art in Northeastern Wisconsin. For my degree in Kustom Kulture Art I had to attend the same school as famed automotive illustrator Steve Stanford did. Good old I.T.M. University. ( I TAUGHT MYSELF! ) It was a good school but the learning curve was steep and not without its frustrations. My new location in Wisconsin introduced me to a van converter named North Eastern Wisconsin Custom Vans. The van craze was in its infancy but seeing the limitless creative potential of the vehicle, I bought one. I intended to do some airbrush and graphic work on a couple of vans in exchange for some interior work I needed done. Ooooops!.....before I knew it I was working 16+ hours a day. Teach Art all day and paint vans at night, weekends and any other break that was available. What started out as just a couple of jobs didn’t slow down until 10+ years later. As the van craze died off, a line of hot rods, customs, motorcycles and whatever else custom paint could be applied to followed. It was an exciting time because each project brought forth new creative challenges and the hands-on experience made me a better teacher.
Throughout the early years information on custom painting was a rarity. There were some articles written but somehow key information was left out and the practitioners were taking their secrets to the grave. Airbrushing, pinstriping, graphics, flames and lettering always seemed to be cloaked in a cloud of mystery. Then, the late 80’s ushered in the arrival of an organization known as the ”PINHEADS.” They were a group of artists willing to share their knowledge with anyone who was interested. This was the boost that the “Kustom Kulture “needed to regain its foothold as a major player in the Counterculture Art Movement. Coupled to the new found interest in a once dying art was the emergence of magazines dedicated solely to the subject and included such titles as Auto Art, Autographics and most recently the UK’s own Pinstriping and Kustom Graphics.
It’s been an exciting trip so far and as long as the train keeps runnin’, I’ll keep ridin’!!!!!!
PSSSST!.....Excuse me. I think I hear my airbrush calling.