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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Car Art

As in understanding many art forms, one has to go back in history to search out the roots
from which it sprung. The first car art was undoubtedly from a guy named Fred.
Anyone can lay out a few hundred bucks, give a car an outlandish paint job, and call it art. Not even the attaching of foreign objects like flowers or egg shells or soda cans to the body rises to the highest level of car art. Car art is far more than that. When it has a theme, when it is beautiful, crazy, funny, and most of all no longer even looks much like an automobile. That's car art. The standards are high. The artist must be willing the sacrifice the car for his or her art. Still, it must be drivable, reasonably safe, and roadworthy, at least in parades or at exhibition venues. Better still, it should haul passengers. In other words, despite the fact it may qualify as great art, it must also remain a car.
Despite the caption, this is not by Jeff Koons, though, if he had the nerve
to poke fun at his own art, it might be a good beginning.
When we think of cars and art in the same context, the name Jeff Koons comes to mind with his wildly decorated vehicles for BMW. And, while they may be eye catching and attractive, Koons is simply treating sheet metal like canvas. Not only is the effort "limp" as to message, it's likewise not really very creative. Car customizers have been doing all that, and far more, since at least the early 1960s. Art transforms. Blank canvas and blank cars say nothing. Lumps of marble and lumps of hoods, doors, and fenders are but raw materials for the artist. At most the untransformed automobile may speak only of opulence, speed, endurance, and perhaps a sort of sleek beauty, the creative effort of but a small team of designers, and having little or no comment regarding the larger human condition in the world.
My imaginary spacecraft--the 1956 Plymouth Belvedere, minus a little wear and tear.
Art is also pretending, imagining, playfully or earnestly building upon what is in favor of what might be. When I was a teenager just learning to drive, I had a 1956 Plymouth Belvedere (as seen above), which I "inherited" from my parents, with its rose and black color scheme and modest tailfins (as compared to what was yet to come). I liked to pretend it was a spacecraft. I even labeled the brakes as "retro-rockets" the headlights as "long-distance radar" while the windshield wipers were "short- distance radar." I never went so far as to attach a nosecone to the hood or solar panels on the roof, but...well, you get the idea. Car artists today are not so timid. Imagine, driving a luxurious yacht (below) down the road, or a telephone, or a high-heel pump, a big, red Radio Flyer wagon (bottom), or, indeed, a 1950s vintage spacecraft.

The Burning Man Festival, Black Rock City, Nevada, is what might be
termed the "Grand Prix" of car art. No water in the desert? Paint your own on the side.
Speaking as a writer prone to categorizing art of all kinds, as well as evaluating it as to good, bad, and god-awful ugly, car art lends itself quite readily to this effort. Such art, first of all, can be divided into two basic categories. They are as different as night and day. In fact, the categories are night and day. That is, creatively transformed vehicles which light up for nighttime viewing (below, left and right) and those designed to make an impression in natural light. Beyond that, the subcategories are very much like those applied to Halloween costumes--most beautiful, most frightening, most creative, funniest, ugh-liest, and perhaps a catch-all "I-give-up-what-is-it?" category.

A vintage, 2010, Big Mouth, Houston, Texas

Impressive day or night
Nighttime car art
Virtually every community in the developed world has their own car show (antique or otherwise). But only the most jaded urban areas rise to competitions and parades featuring art cars. Very often such car artists are actually serious automobile collectors who have grown tired of polishing the chrome on their '59 Caddy or "cranking up" their "any color so long as it's black" Model T. They lay their hands on a "junker" and turn loose their imaginations. Some have come to find (to their dismay) their car art creations overshadowing their "serious" efforts at preservation and restoration. Imagine that...

A whole new meaning
to "car phone."

I wonder if they considered
creating a pair.

I had a Radio Flyer once...minus the pipes.


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