For our recent VIDEO INTERVIEW, we met up with world-renowned artist Mike Lavallee, at his Killer Paint shop to learn about his “True Fire”™ custom paint technique and the incredible work that goes far beyond this technique alone. Lavallee’s bespoke design has virtually no limits, and he has done everything from faux finishing and interior design to helicopters and private jets. Mike’s clients range from your every day guy, to an extensive list of celebrities, and his work has been featured on several TV shows, such as Jesse James’ “West Coast Choppers,” “Monster Garage” on Discovery Channel, TLC’s “Overhaulin,” and “RIDES.”
Mike, you are known particularly for your True Fire™ paint technique. Can you tell me about some of the variety you offer with your other techniques?
I’m well known for my True Fire™ effect, which changed the automotive paint world, but not many people know that my roots are in wildlife painting or that anything that you can do with paint and artwork is also my specialty: wildlife, portraits, faux finishing, bespoke interior design pieces… I even do carving and sculpture.
You are constantly coming up with innovative ways to expand upon what you offer. You never cease to maintain a WOW factor with the work you are producing. Where did you come up with the idea for the custom refrigerators?
When I first moved in the building, the refrigerator was sitting outside. It’s from the 50’s and I just love those lines. My landlord said I could haveit, so I painted it, put blue neon on the back and did some custom shelving on it. When he saw it, he wanted it back (that didn’t happen!) That’s what really started the whole custom refrigerator thing. They’re beautiful by themselves and I make them into functioning pieces of artwork instead of just a place to keep your beer cold. Basically I look for interesting shapes to work on; bowling pins, manikins, cool sinks etc.
You often collaborate on custom projects with other artists. Together you create elaborate projects that are meticulously designed. Are you the mastermind behind all of these types of collaborations or do you occasionally have other people approaching you and proposing project ideas?
I would never say I was a mastermind of anything, I just kind of go at it and I love the sharing of input with other creative people.Project wise, I’m always open and it’s always varied. I’m doing a stand up bass that’s going to Australia as a wedding gift. It’s basically a rockabilly-style, custom sound system, not a playable instrument. I put a Bluetooth system in it and neon of course.
I’m looking at doing a special refrigerator for a Mercedes dealership. It will be modeled to look like a McLaren Coupe inside and out and even open with a key fob.
I’ve got people with Ferraris, who want to make the refrigerator in their garage look like it came as a set with their car. The shelves would be upholstered like the car. It would have the courtesy light, and the little bing-bong when you open the door. People just love something whacky to talk about!
I did a fridge that looks like a B-17 Bomber, riveted in aluminum, with nose art that says “Flame Dame.” I incorporated the original strobe lights from the end of the wings and a sound system (which can be deactivated for those midnight snack moments) so when you open the door it can sound like a bomber flying overhead, or you can have the radio or your favourite tunes playing.
The oddest one happened in the beginning of my career and led me to an idea I want to pursue now. I was at a motorcycle rally and this big burly biker handed me his prosthetic leg and asked me to paint it to look real…with a tattoo. He loved it and it gave me the idea of painting children’s prosthetic limbs. You know how little kids can be cruel to each other or suffer from peer pressure and teasing. But if you custom painted prosthetics and made them look cool, then the kid wearing it will feel cool too. Then I thought about doing it for war vets and I’ll call that a work of heart…to be worn like a badge of honour.Are there any limits to what can be done with custom painting cars, yachts, or planes?
You’re pretty much unlimited to what you can do. It’s usually the lines of the vehicle that will tell you how to do the artwork, or tell you what attitude the vehicle has. That, along with the owner’s personality, lifestyle and taste will kind of dictate what I paint.
The vehicle is just another canvas and the client is the one who is going to say, “I want a Renoir on there” or “I want spray can art.” They can tell me what they would like and then I can tell them how I would present it on the vehicle.
Faux finishing provides infinite possibilities. I painted a motorcycle this past year to look like it was made out of wood. It even had dovetailed joints on the fenders. For a yacht, personal areas like bedrooms and bathrooms are popular. You could do a whole tropical thing in the bathroom; something totally unique that will blow people’s minds whenever they see it. It’s limited only by the client’s own personal design style.What’s next for you? Can you share any current or upcoming projects to be on the lookout for?
I just finished a helicopter in Canada, so I’m kinda back on the ground now so to speak. It’s motorcycle season right now, so everybody’s bringing their bikes in to be done. But I’m still looking for that next cool, unusual project, and I’m willing to go anywhere to do it. So give me a call!