Cottonwood's Award-Winning Artist Carl Avery
By Richard DuPertuis
It's In the Details
Story and Photos by Richard DuPertuis
CARL AVERY was amazed he took first place in the contest. Though the Cottonwood artist had built a solid reputation on what he could do with ink or paint through Carl Avery Studios for six years, this competition was a real stretch from his customer base in Northern California.
“There were 300 entries from 17 countries,” he recalls of the 2012 contest to produce artwork for SATA, maker of high-end spray guns. His prize for the win was a SATAjet 4000. “And they sent a second spray gun, with my design on it,” he adds in a tone of wonder. “They didn’t have to do that.”
Avery turns back to his work, hand-brushing shadow detail into a composition of paint on canvas. Stroking in lines either straight or curved, his hand holds rock steady. This particular piece exemplifies what he calls his style, jagged blocks stacked with hollow cylinders in a way that looks to defy gravity.
“I try to get movement in my art, like it could topple at any moment,” he says. “I like all the different angles and shadows going into it. I like the kinetic energy.”
This piece is among six works scheduled for display in Sacramento at a Native American Heritage Commission dinner. Plenty of others have been drawn to Avery’s artistic energy. Known primarily for his artwork on cars and motorcycles, he also paints murals, such as the ones gracing the walls at both locations of Wilda’s restaurant in Redding.
Wilda’s owner Brett Spears was sold on Avery after seeing his graffiti works. “I wanted to get that look into the restaurants,” he says. “I just let him go wild.” He likes everything Avery has done for him. “Carl was easy to work with,” he says. “And he’s got a great imagination.”
He’s also got great drive. Avery says he is sketching, painting or spraying all the time. “My wife keeps the books for the business,” he says. “She lets me do what I want to do, which is artwork.” He describes a cozy domestic scene, the two of them sitting on the couch together watching TV while he sketches new artistic ideas on a tablet.
He has always been able to split his attention between creating and what is going on around him. “In high school, I started to draw during lectures. They’d call on me to ask what was said and I repeated it back. They let me keep drawing. They knew I wasn’t drawing to goof off, I guess.”
But that didn’t mean his art had no impact on his education. “There were times when I was supposed to be doing homework, but I wasn’t doing it,” he says. “I was drawing. I really don’t know if I’ve had a time in my life when I didn’t have a pen or a pencil in my hand.”
While growing up on the Yurok Reservation, Avery got tired of the style of his ancestors and added his own, taking two-dimensional symbols to 3-D. He does give his heritage some credit for what he calls his obsession with art. “I think it’s inbred,” he says, “from the basket weaving and the bow making.”
His family nourished his growing talent. “My dad bought me an airbrush when I was 13,” he recalls. “He said, ‘Here, play with this. You’re going to be good at it.’”
After graduating high school, Avery came to Redding to enroll at Shasta College, pursuing mainly his love of basketball. He majored in business management, but he never finished college because he found something better. “I got a job answering phones in a paint shop,” he recounts. “On weekends I hung out with the painters. That’s where I learned the craft.”
Eric Carbin, owner of Flawless Automotive Design, worked with Avery for eight years. “I’d pick the colors,” he says, “and he’d go to work and bring the design to life. I just watched him.” Carbin adds with a laugh, “From then to now, I’ve seen a 5,000% increase in his talent.”
Car by car, motorcycle by motorcycle, Avery builds his reputation. He gets new work through word of mouth, with a little help from Facebook and Instagram, and is now seeing recognition from the professional world, which recently culminated in an invitation to the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association show, described as the world’s premier automotive specialty products trade event.
“I’ll be a demonstration artist,” he says, which involves painting live before a highly select audience. “It was the spray gun contest that got me there,” he says with a smile. •
Carl Avery Studios