Shifting Gears: The Making of an Art Car

I co-directed (with Dan Kasser) six student artists from University of the Pacific’s Department of Art and Graphic Design in transforming a 1982 BMW 320 into a work of art. The project is the brainchild of Stockton car collector and former Pacific art student, Dick McClure ’78 who in the spring semester 2017, shared his love of car history. This project followed the same road paved by celebrated artists such as Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein. Along the way, students learned about the rich history of the automobile as an art form such as Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche.

At the beginning, 17 students expressed an interest in the project, many more than could practically take part, so a competition was devised to select who would make the art car team. So I proposed we hold a contest of sorts where each student, as well as Dan and I, selected a car hood or trunk at a Stockton junkyard to use as a “canvas”. My car hood “Mick Fleetwood” can be seen HERE. Students were allowed to paint whatever they wanted on the hoods with the understanding that those designs would not necessarily be part of the finished car.

That (competition) became both a blessing and a curse because it became really difficult to choose the finalists. The quality and the variety of the student work on the hoods made it a very difficult choice for who would ultimately paint on the car.”

A six member student art car team was selected. They first learned about the history of the automobile as art. Regional experts such as local artist Carlos Lopez, car historian Michael Lamm and automotive photographer Phil Toy visited the campus, showed their work and shared their passion for classic cars before painting began.

The final design process had to be one in which there was a synthesis. Our responsibility as faculty is to teach them how to manage talent and to manage themselves. So we set some pretty strong design criteria in terms of their capacity to do the work and their performance as students in the department. The ability to defer, compromise and synthesize individual styles was among the most important lessons the Shifting Gears project provided.

The finished car was revealed at the Reynolds Gallery and also made several appearances at local and regional car shows and on a segment of the morning television show “Good Morning Sacramento”.

A second project was a book documenting the entire Art Car project. I worked with graphic design major Monica Odeh in the creation of this. This publication received Pacific’s Hoefer Prize for Undergraduate Research.