Avenues of Automotive Art
The average person may not think of cars in relation to art, either as objects of it or canvasses for it, but in spite of that there are a number of automobile enthusiasts who appreciate the forms, lines, shapes, and shadows that motor vehicles have offered since their first inception.
The problem is that there are really three separate types of automotive art, each following its own path: autos depicted in art, auto-related advertising art, and automobiles as art. Let's take a look at each avenue:
Automobiles as Subjects of Art
One could argue that art has been an element of the automotive industry since the first Ford rolled out of the first garage, but in terms of significant movements, automotive art appreciation has really only been popular since the early 1980s, when the field grew from a few artists using cars as their subjects, to an alliance of several who wanted to keep abreast of changes in the field and foster an exchange of ideas.
Original sculptures and paintings by the Automotive Fine Arts Society have since become a fixture at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Ken Eberts, a former car designer with Ford, is a founder and president of the AFAS. His art communicates the history, excitement, and aesthetics of automobiles in a way that can be understood and appreciated by car and art enthusiasts alike. “The automobile is a passionate subject that resonates with all of us,” says Eberts.
Automobiles as subjects of art were not, and are not, solely the domain of men, however. Nicola Wood, a graduate from the Royal College of Art in London, was invited to join the ranks of the Automotive Fine Arts Society in 1988. Since then her talent has been recognized on several occasions, which includes receiving the Athena Award of Excellence four times, one of the most sought-after forms of recognition in the world of automotive art.
Modern technology has also made this kind of automotive art accessible to the every-day enthusiast. The world wide web has made it easy for people to post pictures of their cars online, and while many of the shots are as bad as the worst snapshot in anyone's collection of family photos, others, Photoshopped to tweak colors and make chrome gleam, allows one to give photos a more professional look while at the same time giving them a personal touch.
Automobile Advertising Art
More recognizable, and with a longer history, is art used to advertise cars. This form goes all the way back to the dawn of the twentieth century when brochures and advertising posters were actually painted by real artists, the same people who created the iconic profile of the Cunard Line luxury liners for those advertising posters.
It is these paintings, and these artists, whose work expanded from depictions of autos used to help sell them, to depictions of autos for their own sake. Early artists in this genre would tell those who asked that the car is an extremely artistic subject, and that capturing one on canvas or in a photograph is as much about capturing a period in history as it is about the machine itself, though most choose their subjects because they have a passion for cars, as well as a passion for art.
In the fifties and sixties, GM’s dynamic duo, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman took the art of automobile advertising to its zenith with stunning illustrations. In their 20 year collaboration ‘AF’ rendered the cars and ‘VK’ portrayed the people, set in exotic locations around the world. "Early in our Pontiac work, we really started breaking the rules. Putting the girl's bike in front of the car!" recalls ‘Fitz.’ John DeLorean credited them with dramatically transforming Pontiac’s image and sales.
Though photography and now computer graphics have supplanted hand-painted advertisements, the artistic element has not been diminished. It takes special talent to choose the right angles for a new car, so that a glimpse of just the grille creates interest and anticipation, and a video presentation showing the animated grid design framework of a car in motion requires the eye of an artist as well as that of an engineer.
Automobiles as Art
From drawings to paintings to photographs to video and CGI, we have seen depictions of cars evolve, but one form of automotive art that has also developed is the use of the car itself as a sort of mobile canvas, with a range of decoration ranging from pinstripes to flames, and from faux ink blots to elaborate decals advertising products or imitating nature.
Probably the most frequently decorated car is the Volkswagen Beetle, both because its curvy lines and reputation for being both cool and cute make it attractive to young artsy drivers, and because there are a number of companies that cater to beetle beautification.
Since 1975, BMW’s Art Car Collection has reflected the cultural development of art, design and technology. Iconic artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney have each made a unique artistic statement about the appearance and meaning of cars in their era. Warhol painted the fourth car in the series himself. "I tried to portray speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred."
More extreme are people who add three-dimensional exterior art to their cars, and then share their designs at art-car festivals. In fact there is an entire art-car sub-culture that includes everything from modified muscle cars to sedans that have been decorated to the point that their street legality is often questionable.
Whether for advertising, artistic pride, or the challenge of creating a never-before-seen moveable sculpture, the evolution of automotive art that began at the dawn of the twentieth century is continuing on its path, growing in as many ways as automotive technology itself. One thing that has not changed however is that all of it is celebrating the love of automobiles.
Images: ‘Sex in the City’ by Ken Eberts (2003) - BMW M1 Art Car by Andy Warhol (1979) - Pontiac Catalina in Bermuda advert by Art Fitzpatrick (1959)
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