Story: Brian Scotto
Photography: Douglas Sonders
Cory Saint Clair flunked ninth grade art. Why? For not following the rules. Fifteen years later, not much has changed. The 34-year-old still isn’t playing by the book, but ironically, today that’s part of what makes him one of the premier airbrush artists in the industry. “I would rather punch myself in the face than paint more flames and skulls,” jokes Saint Clair, who’s been trying to move away from what he feels is clichéd, instead implementing a fine-art approach to his work. “I’m tired of doing the evil stuff; I want to show that there’s a whole other world to this, and that there are real artists in the airbrush game,” he says. Aside from painting angels on a Lamborghini Gallardo, he is currently finishing a depiction of the Sistine Chapel on the headliner of his 2007 Dodge Magnum.
For Saint Clair, it all started with a copy of Airbrush Action and an Iwata airbrush he received for his 12th birthday. “Everything I learned was all self-taught, because I couldn’t afford to go to an art school,” he explains. “I learned from magazines. Sometimes we didn’t have enough money to get them, but my mom would always find a way to buy Airbrush Action, because she knew that was my only avenue.”
From the very beginning, Saint Clair was out to earn, and he quickly found a way to flip his passion for profit. Cutting his teeth on airbrushing T-shirts and denim jackets in the early ’90s (when everyone was rocking Looney Tunes characters on gear), Saint Clair moved up to portraits. As his skill progressed, he was doing stage backdrops for the likes of Puffy and TLC. “I did a lot of concerts, and that got me into doing large-scale stuff, and I figured out that was one of my [specialties], that I could sit down at eight o’clock at night, take a picture, get the scale on the piece, and come four or five o’clock in the morning, here’s a face,” explains Saint Clair. “Once I started getting into the big-scale stuff, that just opened up more doors. People started to know me in Virginia before I even moved down to Atlanta.” But it was in Atlanta that Saint Clair sprayed up his first whip, a 1995 Chevy Dually donning a cobalt blue biomechanical theme.
With the late ’90s bike scene growing quickly in the ATL, painting motorcycles was an obvious progression. But one bike in particular made Saint Clair infamous: a street bike with the Joker’s face on the side. “I kinda beat everybody up in the bike scene with that one. I would show up and cats would start cussin’ my ass, just straight hatin’ because they knew as soon as I pulled it off at a show, I got that trophy money,” he says. “In Atlanta I had the bike scene completely locked down.” This bike launched Saint Clair’s career in the custom car and bike world. From then on, he quickly began to gain recognition not just in Georgia, but nationally.
Interestingly, it was another Joker-themed vehicle that springboarded Saint Clair’s vocation to the next level; this time, on the side of a Ford Expedition. The job took him to California, where, after being approached to spray a few more cars, he called home to his girlfriend and said, “Pack up, we’re moving to Cali.”
That was 2005. Today Saint Clair, now sponsored by House of Kolor, works on some of the top builds in the nation, including much of Asanti’s fleet. A job by the man himself could cost you upwards of $150,000, but as Cory says, “If you have money to spend on a Lamborghini, you can afford to paint it to set it apart. It’s just paint.” Not a bad finish for the kid who failed art.