Freak mobiles come out at night: Art cars razzle and dazzle Louisville’s streets

The “21C Pip Mobile” created by Monica Mahoney.

The “21C Pip Mobile” created by Monica Mahoney.

Considering recent advancements in car technology, things like global positioning systems and hybrid fuel, the idea of gluing Kodak Instamatics to the side of a van seems downright quaint. Yet art car pioneer Harrod Blank, who did just that, will cruise into the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center with 30 other art cars from Louisville and elsewhere for the sixth annual Kentucky Art Car Weekend, which starts this Friday.
The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft sponsors the three-day event, one of only a handful of such shows around the country.

Art car artists take vehicular aesthetics a few steps beyond bumper stickers and window clings. Some paint their rides in interesting and unusual ways, while others transform their cars into other objects altogether. But the rules are pretty simple: The car must be drivable, and the changes must be permanent.
The weekend features car exhibitions, demonstrations, a workshop for children and a Friday trolley hop where artists can sell their other works.

Of course, Louisville artists and their cars will be represented, people such as Scott Scarboro and his “Super Sonic Space Buggy,” and Sonny Fenwick with his Bubble Truck, which spews bubbles as it motors around. One local art car came from the hands of Monica Mahoney, who spent more than 1,000 hours gluing an estimated 72,000 red gems onto a 1996 Lincoln Towne Car stretch limousine. Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown commissioned Mahoney, primarily a painter, to make the car for their 21C Hotel and Museum.

Mahoney titled her first foray into the art car world “Arillated: The 21C Pip Mobile,” as the vehicle represents the inside of a pomegranate. She says choosing to visit 21C represents a more challenging, rewarding experience than the standard fare — much like a pomegranate.

The work certainly wasn’t standard fare, either, as Mahoney hand-applied the gems with silicone. She went through 350 tubes to ensure that the 700 pounds of gems stayed stuck on the limo.
“Luckily, I’m very persistent,” she said. “I really got into the Zen of it.”

The piece will be on display at Art Car Weekend, along with work from other car artists who Mahoney said helped her with “Arillated.” After her tedious experience, she has a new appreciation for those artists and their works.

“I’m really into reusing and giving things new life,” Mahoney said. “Also, it’s fun to have something moving around, and you don’t know who’s going to see it.”

Those who are unable to make it out to the Center can catch “Arillated” as it rolls by in several caravans and parades planned on Friday and Saturday. The Weekend closes with a Saturday night “Art Car Hoedown.”

Although the official Weekend starts Friday, the event technically kicks off Thursday night with a drive-in style screening of Harrod Blank’s third and newest documentary on the subject, “Automorphosis.” Blank will attend for the first time, driving down from Minneapolis in his “Camera Van.” It is exactly what it sounds like: a big old van covered with hundreds of cameras.

Blank constructed the van so he could catch bystanders’ natural reactions with the cameras, and he’s interested in how Louisvillians will take to the shutterbug behemoth.

“I decided to come because the van’s never been anywhere near Kentucky,” he said. “When I get out in the country, I’ll probably get some good reactions.”

The art car guru’s love for the medium began with good reactions. Living in the forest near Santa Cruz, Calif., he was  not unaccustomed to the attention he received after he painted a rooster on the first car he had in high school. Two more art cars, three art car documentaries and a plan for the “Artcar World” museum later, he holds a high position in the echelons of this particular artform.

“Art car museum curator” won’t be on many life goal pamphlets, and Blank said it was something that happened gradually. Now, after organizing Art Car Fest in San Francisco and an art car camp at the Burning Man festival, he gets invited to visit places like Louisville to help legitimize gatherings of art car lovers.
From his travels across the nation, Blank said the art car scene here isn’t nearly as large as a place like car-dependent Houston, “but it’s not the same energy — Louisville’s just pure folk.”

Granted, few folks here may be ready to glue a few thousand gems on their Honda or outfit a bubble machine to their roof. But this weekend, there’s a great chance to live vicariously as Louisville turns into the temporary capital of the art car world.
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Kentucky Art Car Weekend
Aug. 2-4
Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center
1860 Mellwood Ave.
Free; various times