When I started the planning process for my community art project exploring the lives of LGBTQ residents of Western Pennsylvania (#AMPLIFY), I knew that I would have to be on the road -- ideally, traveling to all 26 counties several times over the three year period.
So I had this bright and naive idea that maybe a regional car dealer might like to partner with me to generate exposure to the community. My car review blogger friends quickly disabused me of that notion, explaining that promotional cars are typically for very short periods of time and for much higher profile projects than mine.
So I resigned myself to using my trusty 2000 Honda CRV. It is in fairly good shape and has just over 130,000 miles, so no worries. Plus, I have an excellent mechanic who never lets me down. Still, there was the issue that it is a bit beat up. Some rust, some old decals and a few spots where it had been keyed over the years.
One of my project sponsors is himself an art car owner and enthusiast so he nudged me in the direction of getting a paint job to spruce up the vehicle and promote the project -- he also really loves Honda CRV's and very much wanted the challenge of adding an "Art SUV" to his fleet of art vehicles.
What the heck is an art car? And does it have anything to do with Andy Warhol being as how this is Pittsburgh after all?
In creating an art car, the "exteriors and interiors of factory-made automobiles are transformed into expressions of individual ideas, values, beliefs and dreams. The cars range from imaginatively painted vehicles to extravagant fantasies whose original bodies are concealed beneath newly sculptured shells" (from Petersen Automotive Museum's Spring 2003 Los Angeles, California exhibit Wild Wheels: Art for the Road Gallery Guide)
Warhol himself painted what is consider the most valuable art car in the world, a BMW M1 in the late 1970s.
Most Wanted Fine Art a.k.a. Pgh Art Car currently has three art vehicles - the art car, the art van and the art truck. The car is for display and some transportation needs. The van and truck are work vehicles that haul the crew and supplies around for the contracting team. Team member Jeff also has an art van created from his personal Chevy Astro.
Jason also creates an art car which he enters into the Stoneboro Fair Demolition Derby each year. He has all sorts of interesting ways to destroy an art car -- including giant robots firing paint balls -- and then converts the destroyed car into art. It is a fascinating fusion of derby car culture with art car culture with storytelling. Read more about the Pittsburgh Art Car, It is a national phenomenon.
Different members of the visual art team contribute to different vehicles. My team included MWFA co-owner Jason Sauer and team artists Sam Thorp and Kai Devenitch. Sam is a queer artist who has been a contributor to the AMPLIFY project and is the editor of the AMPLIFY zine. Kai is an ally who designed the AMPLIFY logo and has been part of the support team for almost everything we've done. I was excited to see what their collective vision would be.
I wanted to incorporate the AMPLIFY logo with a hashtag symbol to encourage passers by to "Google the term" and find our project. The logo is grounded in the symbolism of the pink triangle to reflect our queer sensibility. It is both overtly and subtly a queer logo which is perfect as we are sometimes traveling into unfriendly territory.
After some conversation, Kai and Jason thought incorporating a cat motif would be smart. Frequent readers of my personal blog and social media friends know that I am definitely a cat person. My corporate name (and 'owner' of the blog & AMPLIFY project) is SueCat Social Media. And it would attract attention to the vehicle, hopefully prompting people to Google #AMPLIFY. Kai's painting focuses on wildlife so that was also a good fit.
We had some back and forth conversations over sketches and imagery, but ultimately I knew this is a work of art not a paint job in my living room so I had to trust the instincts of the artists.
My partner and I decided to go for it, then we hit a snag -- her own Honda went past the tipping point for repairs so it had to be parked and we became a one car family. She's searching for a new car, but in the meantime we are sharing the CRV. She has been a good sport about going ahead with the art car anyway because she knows I need to get on the road to visit the outlying counties in the good weather. She rolls her eyes when I point out someone staring at the car or surreptitiously taking photos, something Most Wanted Fine Art describes as "the parade life." I'm fairly certainly she's wishing I had tried harder to find a car dealer to support the project!
The painting process took three days. Voila!
Things I love about this car.
- The cat face on the front incorporates the headlights. It is both cute and a bit surreal at the same time.
- The tiger striping cat theme on the rest of the car can be modified, expanded or touched up with ease. This is good because hail attacked Pittsburgh the night the car was finished.
- The pink triangles on the hubcaps are a big improvement over the rusted out look I've been going with for the past umpteen years. And of course, the triangle looks good no matter which way the wheel is rotated.
- The block lettering of the hashtag looks subtly corporate because of the stenciling type font which makes it easier to read while in motion. The point, after all, is for people to see that hashtag.
- People who have no clue what the pink triangle means are going to see the cat. And that's good. It opens the door for a conversation, but also gives me some cover if necessary. There are regions of Western PA where even this very out lesbian blogger feels unsafe. I can only imagine what its like to live there.
- I own some art. Me. Art that I exhibit every day just by parking the car on the street. I'm an art owner. A consumer of art. A supporter of the arts. Art that was commissioned with money.
- I have the perfect nontraditional response to the worrisome grant question - how will you promote your project?
- I'm part of a fleet now. I'll be traveling with Pittsburgh Art Car to several art car shows and promoting their events on my own travels for AMPLIFY.
If you see the #catcar on the roads of Western Pennsylvania, please give us a shout out on social media. And remember, we need your contribution to the AMPLIFY project -- it takes about 30 minutes to complete our online Q&A. Participants should be 18+, identify as LGBTQ+ and have ties to at least one of the 26 Western Pennsylvania counties.
So keep your eyes out for a big pink cat car and be sure to wave!