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Aug 15

When Art and Cars Collide

Janis Joplin porsche

Janis Joplin and her Porsche

It is a tradition among my friends to have fun painting and revamping old cars. My friend Emmy has a car whose paint job looks like undulating ocean waves. My friend Benito once had a car that was completely covered in AstroTurf with miniature figurines glued to the hood. These friends are not professional artists but they are part of a growing art car community that has been around for decades.

An art car is a vehicle that has been modified as a creative expression of the owner. While there has been a long tradition of modifying cars, both artistically and technologically, the art car movement probably first started in American in the hippie movement of the 1960s. For example, Janis Joplin asked one of her roadies to paint her white Porche in psychedelic images. He did an excellent job and that car is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And in 1975, french racecar driver, Herve Poulain commissioned Alexander Calder to paint his BMW racecar. This seemed to ignite a trend among professional artists around the world. More BMW racecars were painted by such notable artists as Frank Stella, Roy Lichenstein, Robert Rauschenberg Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol! BMW has wisely capitalized

BMW by Sandro Chia

BMW race car painted by Sandro Chia

on this trend by becoming a patron to the arts and using the artwork to promote messages about green energy, among other things.

Today one of the biggest convocation of art cars happens at the annual Burning Man Festival in Nevada (but there are art car festivals all over the U.S.) Festival artists work all year long on fantastical art cars that they proudly display on the flat sands of the desert where the festival takes place. I had the pleasure to attend this festival in 2009 and the number and variety of the art cars astounded me, especially at night when they are lit up with glowing and blinking lights.. Most of these art cars were open to picking you up for a little ride through festival. It was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the festival; most especially because

Elephant Art Car

Elephant Art Car

it’s a five-mile hike from end to the other. The landscape became an ocean crowded with ships of the sea. There was in fact a huge pirate ship art car that was probably a bus originally.

The artistic paint jobs of the 60’s and 70’s and have transformed in to the complete retrofitting of cars, buses, vans and recreational vehicles. These mobile sculptures are sometimes called ‘mutant vehicles.’ In many cases the frames, the engines and even the axels of these vehicles have been permanently altered to support the sculptural illusion. The car disappears and the sculpture appears.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of art cars:

  • A car transformed into a huge whale with open mouth where passengers can ride
  • A car transformed into a mastodon skeleton
  • A car transformed into a huge angler fish (passenger ride in the mouth)
  • A van transformed into a huge chicken

    House Art Car

    Victorian House Art Car

  • A truck transformed into a UFO
  • An SUV completely covered in marshmallow Easter peeps
  • A truck transformed into a gabled, Victorian home
  • A truck transformed into a dragonfly with glowing, blue wings extending far above the truck.

I am not able to list all the amazing photos, but if you search Google for “burning man mutant vehicles,” you will not be disappointed.

I look forward to this art car trend spreading around the world!

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