Underground Diaries, Part 40
I only wrote one piece on Art Cars. Underground’s publishing schedule was catching up with us and most of my time was taken creating videos, which were what my superiors at Yahoo were most focused on for commercial reasons.
To those who proudly roll in flashy or expensive cars, a suggestion: Glue polyurethaned breakfast burritos, blowup dolls and slinky toys all over those precious rides; action-paint them as homages to Jackson Pollock; modify their bodies to resemble giant slabs of sashimi and then shadow Kikkoman delivery trucks around town.
In other words, turn them into art cars. People will not only notice you more in an art car than in any midlife-crisis ride you’ve tried, they might just respect you.
You may wind up feeling like Brangelina exiting an African orphanage, though.
Never have I seen more cameras spontaneously appear than while tailing Rebecca Caldwell’s Carthedral east out of Tucson on I-10. It was like a Busby Berkeley, showgirl-laden musical: The Carthedral passed and a cascading wave of photo-taking gadgets shot from every car window in its wake.
We were rolling with an art car caravan on the last leg of its run from California’s Bay Area to the Arizona/Mexico border town of Douglas. One reason for the road trip was the fun of catching up with fellow art car artists like Rick McKinney and strange roadside attractions like the Integratron.
Mainly, though, we were escorting the venerable Carthedral and Emily Duffy’s Mondrianmobile to their new home, the future Art Car World.
Art car impresario Harrod Blank‘s labor of love, Art Car World is under construction in an old glass shop in Douglas. It will one day house a museum featuring art cars in quasi-diorama settings made by the artists.
At this point you may be saying to yourself, “Back up, dude. What’s an art car?”
Well, an art car is vehicle for self-expression — literally.
Art car artists turn their rides into street-legal, rolling canvases… or collages… or sculpture. The Mondrianmobile is predominantly painted. Ernie Steingold’s California Fantasy Van (part of Art Car World’s collection) is essentially a collage. And the Carthedral is a sculpture.
Art cars turn up almost everywhere, though there are art car hotbeds. Houston recently hosted its 20th annual art car parade. Blank and Northrup are behind the Bay Area’s yearly ArtCar Fest.
And then there’s Burning Man, where the only non-emergency gas-guzzlers allowed on the playa are mutant vehicles (a slightly larger designation than art cars in that they needn’t be street legal). Over-the-top mutants (like Tom Kennedy‘s Super Silky Mobile) are a constant source of amusement at Burning Man.
Wherever they are, and whatever the medium, art cars have maximum effect. Time and again, as our caravan rolled south, people in passing cars would forget themselves — forget that they were driving, even — as they hung out windows and whooped at the rolling art exhibition. Many simply stared in awe (Carthedral is pretty darkly awesome).
Art cars “storm the reality studio,” in William Burroughs’ words. In the early ’90s, Rick Macnamara regularly stormed commuters’ reality with his Rocket Bike, a motorcycle done up as a ballistic missile (plus western saddle and steer horns), as a protest against the Gulf war.
Art cars get you thinking differently: Why would someone drive a car covered in horse figurines? Or painted like a Mondrian? Why do you drive what you drive? Why were you born? (Thinking differently is a slippery slope.)
Art cars get you acting differently, too. Unlike sound-proof, climate-controlled vehicles straight off the assembly line, art cars encourage interaction. People roll down their windows and talk to art car drivers. And they use words other than “#$%@ you!”
“People get so excited,” says Philo Northrup, an art car community stalwart. Northrup made the trip south in his latest creation, a zinc and horn festooned Honda Element named Daisy Singer. “They weave out of traffic to honk their horns and wave at me — and this happens every day!”
In Tucson, the driver of a red pick-up was so amused by our art car caravan that he joined it and for a good five minutes made the sign of the devil at us.
Art cars simply attract attention. It’s up to you to figure out what to do with it.
Photo and footage credits:
Photos of Tom Kennedy courtesy of Tom Kennedy. Photo of Topsy Turvey bus beneath San Francisco City Hall courtesy of Gary Wilson. Dinosaur Demolition Derby footage courtesy of Joe Mangrum.
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