Looking back on our chat with Alex Wells about his amazing artwork and his '28 Ford hot rod in the build

Photographers: Andrew Goodwin

Alex Wells is a Bunbury-based artist with hot rods running through his veins and wild ideas in his head

This article on Alex Wells was originally published in issue 16 of the Street Machine Hot Rod magazine, 2015

ALEX Wells has been kicking around car parts and art materials since day dot. Both his parents worked as signwriters, and his old man Alan is a respected West Australian hot rodder.

In recent years Alan’s focus fhas shifted from hot rods to classic bikes, but he is helping Alex build his first rod, a 10-year stop-start project that began with some fanciful drawings done when Junior was just 15. Now 26, Alex spends time working on the car when he isn’t out earning a crust as a brickie or pursuing his major passion – visual art.

Alex has been drawing and painting his whole life, but recently he has struck on that elusive mix of talent, motivation and personal style. Some nerd who’s really into the lowbrow scene might look at his work and note the way he takes Von Dutch and Ed Roth’s eyeballs, Rat Finks and hot rods and mashes them with Sailor Jerry’s tattoo flash flowers and pin-up girls, often with a juxtaposed Star Wars character or a famous landmark thrown against it. But Alex doesn’t think that hard about it – he just puts ink to paper and lets it flow.

How early were you indoctrinated into hot rod culture?
It’s basically been my whole life, really. Dad had a ’28 Chev that he originally built as a pick-up and later converted to a sedan delivery. It had a 350 Chev and ran high 12s at the old Ravenswood drag strip. So for as long as I can remember I’ve been going to hot rod shows or whatever show was going on.

And now you are building your own hot rod, with Dad helping out.
Dad is always trying new things, and at some point he wanted to go down a different path with getting into motorbikes, but we’re building this car together. I’ve always wanted a hot rod but I could never really afford the hot-rodding thing, because it’s fairly expensive. Dad hand-built everything on his previous hot rods, so we decided to do one for me. This is going back 10 years. We did some drawings to get a rough idea of what we wanted, but I think that all got thrown out the window in the end and we just built it from our heads.

Everything you see on it is scratch-built. It’s based on a ’28 Ford, but because we don’t have the funds to buy a shell we just built everything ourselves out of sheet metal. Dad’s shed is pretty much set up for everything we need to do. I don’t find the metalwork too difficult because all the lines on a hot rod are fairly simple. It’s pretty easy.

Alex thought he’d “have a crack at something different”, so he built this strange-looking pushbike. “Everything is made from shit lying around the shed,” he says

It looks like first-class work and that front end and grille is just stunning.
The whole point is to make people stop and look. The idea was to do something really different but to pay homage to a traditional hot rod. The grille is handmade, like everything else. It was good fun doing that; I spent hours bending those bloody rods.

Holden running gear?
It will run a 3.3L early Commodore engine, and mostly everything else on it is Holden stuff. All the running gear we got from the wreckers. It’ll have a three-speed Trimatic gearbox out of an HX with a Gemini torque converter and a Toyota supercharger. The diff is 3.55 from an early Commodore, with an HG front end.

A decade is a decent length of time; got a deadline for the build?
I was hoping to finish by Easter next year in time for Street Rod Nationals, but that might be pushing it a bit. There have been long periods where it just sat there. I got sick of it for a while; I didn’t swing a spanner on it for nearly two years. It’s only been this last year I’ve gotten back into it, because I want to drive the bloody thing. It’s been a long stretch, but it’s coming to a close now.

Have you decided whether you’ll paint it?
I’m a bit undecided on how I’m going to finish it. Originally we were thinking of going for a real over-the-top 60s-style show rod – shiny, chrome everything, y’know. But as time has gone on everything has changed. I don’t know, I guess it will just look like it does when it’s finished.

Maybe it’ll be one of those cars that’s never really finished?
Probably, yeah. Dad has always been a bit like that as well, so maybe I will be the same.

When did you get started doing art and taking that seriously?
Mum and Dad are both signwriters so I was always painting or drawing. When I was at school I was never doing work, I was always doodling. Everything I do is self-taught. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right. I just like doing it. I’ve always drawn and painted but the past two or three years I’ve taken it semi-seriously, keeping my hand in by painting every day.

Here’s a good example of Alex’s desire to break with tradition. “I wanted to do a Rat Fink but I didn’t want to ‘just’ do a Rat Fink,” he explains. “Y’know, everyone does the same bloody thing. Rat Fink is always crazy so I thought he’d look good in one of those science jars where you preserve your dead animals”

What media do you use?
I started using watercolours just because that’s what I had lying around at home. I enjoyed that and then I moved onto using acrylics and inks, pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. Pens, pencils – I’ll try everything.

Your style has shades of Von Dutch, Sailor Jerry and George Lucas. Where does your inspiration come from?
I guess whatever my mind is focused on.

I went through a bit of a phase where I painted nothing but Star Wars stuff, because I’ve always been a massive fan of Star Wars. I was fi xated on that for a year or so.

I’ve been breaking away from that the past couple of years, just putting my hands on whatever I’m feeling. It’s hard because I don’t really have any infl uence, just whatever comes to mind at the time.

What are some of your favourite pieces?
I don’t really like a lot of what I do. As soon as I’ve finished with it, I pick the shit out of it and say “I don’t like that” or “I did this wrong”, I always look for the flaws.

But I guess I do like my newer stuff better than my older stuff, just based on the quality of it. Looking back on everything I’ve done, I can see a progression of the quality of it. When I first started it was just so shit. I’ve learned a lot more technique since then and I’m just now starting to achieve the quality and the style I like.

I like how when you draw a car none of the wheels are ever in line. Maybe because I just hate drawing circles! It adds to the character I suppose.
I’ve got a lot of hot rod culture books, Ed Roth and all the crazy Rat Fink drawings and that sort of thing, it’s that sort of style I suppose.

Alex Wells artwork

There’s also a tattoo influence there.
Yeah, I like to create things that look like that old tattoo style, like an art fl ash. I only have one of my pieces tattooed on my leg, but I’m not really that big on tattoos anymore, I stopped that a while ago.

After seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, Alex decided to create a tribute, but it wasn’t the cars that were foremost in his mind. “The cars are pretty cool but I went with the sexy girls in their chastity belts,” he says, “trying my hand at some neotraditional-style tattoo art”

Has anyone asked you to design for them?
I’ve had people approach me to do stuff but at the time I didn’t really want to do anything for the money; I was just more interested in painting and doing it for myself. But I think now I wouldn’t mind doing a few pieces here and there. I haven’t really put myself out there [as a commercial artist], but I think I’d be keen to try anything. I’ve been thinking about doing it for a while but I get to a certain point and something holds me back. I guess I need to take that leap, get out of my comfort zone.