Geoarge Roybal

           If you are into hot rods or custom motorcycles then you already know the name George Roybal.
That would be true no matter what part of the world you lived in. Most enthusiasts afar only get to read about him and drool over his art in books and magazines, or perhaps get lucky enough to see one of his pieces of art on a custom hot rod at a local car show. Here in the Northwest pieces of his art go whizzing by us on the road all the time, especially in the warm months when the Harleys hit the road.
People from all over the nation send their motorcycle gas tanks and fenders and helmets to have him airbrush one of his original works of art on their prized possession. People from Europe send him tee shirts to airbrush. In our little part of the world, we need only to drive up to the bright yellow building that used to be a Texaco station at 16th and Pines to hire one of America’s top airbrush artists to turn whatever we hold dear into a piece of art.
“I’m an art whore,” he said with a smile during a recent interview in his shop. “I paint for money.” The truth is that each time George performs the act of art for a client , it is a labor of love that climaxes when the owner comes to see the finished product for the first time. “It’s all about the reaction that I get from the people I satisfy,” he said. “Each piece of art that I do is original and it’s personal to that particular individual.”
George got turned onto street art at an early age the way most young boys get turned on: by looking at pictures in magazines, car magazines that is. Ed Roth, the world renowned hot rod builder and creator of the Rat Fink cartoon , was his wonder years hero. “When I was a kid, Ed Roth showed you the way,” he said, explaining that he is still a closet Rat Fink and a fan of what is known as the Kustom Kulture, an American sub-culture which sprang up in the 50’s and continues to evolve and is on display at every car show in the nation.
Having discovered his artistic talent around five years old, George was introduced to the medium of airbrushing in art class as a sophomore at Ferris. For the next several years he worked at his passion and developed his talent. But he had a young family to take care of and so he worked for UPS during the week and airbrushed tee shirts on the weekends at car shows.
“You would be amazed at how many guys carry around a picture of their cars in their wallets,” he said. “I discovered that if you can make a car look shiny on a tee shirt, you’ve got it made.”  He earned $1700 in two days painting shirts at $25 a piece at his first car show in 1980. Not bad side money for a father with six mouths to feed.
Finally in 1990 he made the big leap and left UPS after 15 years to airbrush full time. At first he mainly got by airbrushing shirts at places like the Fairchild commissary and University City. “I cut my teeth on tee shirts,” he said. “I could have made twice the money doing quick cheesy stuff. But I was working at mastering airbrushing and creating art.” Still, he was able to pull in about $12,000 in two months at the Silver Lake Mall during the holidays.
Eventually, the mall gigs became less necessary as clients began to knock more and more on the door of his shop. Through the years he has created his art on items as small as a license plate and as large as the side of a Seattle building where he was commissioned to airbrush a 4,000 square foot mural. His biggest project on wheels was also his biggest nightmare. Creating the artwork on Matheson Racing’s truck and 50′ trailer was no problem but clear coating his work did not go so well.
“The air compressor I was using did fine the whole way through painting the mural. But half way through the clear coat it just died,” he said.  “then I looked back and noticed that it had been petering out from the beginning and created sags on all the rivets.”  It turns out that the trailer had 3,000 rivets per side and so George spent the next 8 days wet sanding 1,500 tiny sags. But the effort paid off.
“I was down in a car show in California and this guy comes up and says ‘ You’re the son of a gun that painted that trailer I drove all around coming down I-5,” George said. ” He told me he followed that rig for two hours and still wanted to see it again because he couldn’t take it all in.”
In a sense, George’s art work is a group experience. First it is between George and the client who valued his talent and paid for his gift and then it is shared with each person who ever sees it. For example, Brad Kinney who owns the Spokane company CAD, hired George to paint seven of their material distributing trucks. Sunrise Excavating did the same thing. The Ray brothers who own all the local McDonalds had him paint the murals in their playrooms.

   We are the third party that has our day brightened when we pass by one of those exciting trucks or our kids drag us into a McDonald’s Playland or we go to a local car show. It is something that George gets a kick out of as well.
” I want to see my stuff out on the streets,” he said. “I love what I do and I feel absolutely blessed. It’s certainly not about the money, but the money is nice.”

 

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