good carma

Twelfth annual ArtCar Parade ready to roll

The automobile is such a ubiquitous part of our culture that many of us hardly ever really look at the contraptions we strap ourselves into several times a day to hurtle around at death-defying speeds (if you're lucky and traffic is light). If you do stop and take a look, you'll almost certainly not like what you see.

Cars are uniformly bland assemblages of metal, plastic and rubber. They're so dull that some people actually get excited if one looks slightly less like a fast-moving bathtub than another. The most popular colors of cars are white and gray, according to folks who keep track of such things. The most popular shape is rectangular (it is also the only shape available as far as we can tell). The most popular velocity is fast and the most popular style is &#8220sporty.”

Face it; no matter how much you're spending on your car, truck or SUV, and no matter how much you adore your white or gray 24-cam, four-wheel-drive, DVD-playing, direction-giving, dead-dinosaur-powered MitsuChevroHondyota, it's ugly. It's virtually identical to every other car, truck or SUV on the road. (Yes, the rubber molding on yours goes this way, while on those really ugly cars it goes that way.) Hopefully, your monotone vehicle doesn't reflect the personality of its owner any more than the color and shape of the junk mail you pull out of your mailbox does.

Beautifully broken rules

There are a few exceptions to the rule of automotive conformity, of course. Not everyone is content to drive around in dull uniformity and steadfast sameness. They transform their ugly modes of conveyance into art. Into beauty. Into statements reflecting who they are and what the imagination can unleash.

Many of these individualists will be rolling their free spirits and elaborately decorated cars through Southwest as part of the 12th annual ArtCar Parade on Saturday, July 22 at 2 p.m. presented by Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. of Lowry Hill East. The art car parade begins at the corner of Lake Street and Grand Avenue, going west on Lake until it comes to Lyndale Avenue, where it goes north until stopping at 28th Street in front of the Intermedia Arts building.

Jan D. Elftmann, curator and creator of the parade, says she has difficulty driving anything but an art car. When she recently bought a plain Honda Civic (her famous art-car cork truck has over 300,000 miles on it) to get her around, she found herself distracted by the dull quiet. &#8220It's just not the same driving a car that's not an art car,” the Downtown resident said. &#8220Once you get used to having an art car, you just really enjoy the reaction you get from the crowd and just people on a daily basis.”

Corky, as she calls her first art car, is a 1987 Mazda covered with 10,000 corks, mainly popped from bottles of wine.

&#8220The cork truck is now 12 years old,” she said. &#8220He can't be a daily driver, so I can't drive him every day.”

Why &#8220him” instead of &#8220her” or &#8220it”? &#8220He just has male energy,” she said of the truck. &#8220I tried to call him Olivia the Cork Truck, but it just didn't fit.”

The found-object artist is transforming the as-yet-unnamed Civic into a work of rolling art, too.

&#8220I've been taking all these little objects and making little vignettes [on the sides of the car] and telling little stories within each one of the little circles. So each circle is going to be a different scene,” she said.

&#8220My whole goal is to try get people to not have road rage. To make people happy on the road. It doesn't always work. If they're rageful, they're rageful.”

Both of Elftmann's cars will be in the ArtCar Parade. The local event began a dozen years ago after she went to Houston, Tex. to see her first art car parade. When things got started here, organizers didn't have proper parade permits, so the decorated cars simply tooled slowly through Southwest in an informal procession. By the seventh year, Elftmann procured a permit from the city, but it still wasn't exactly what was needed.

&#8220We actually got a funeral permit, where we could get police officers to escort us down the street and stop traffic.”

This year, as in recent years, the parade permit is in order; Elftmann said she expects 80 or so vehicles in it and from 5,000 to 7,000 spectators.

Art of the automobile

One of the cars in it will belong to Kat Corrigan, a South Minneapolis art teacher whose 1991 Dodge Shadow was painted by about 400 of her students five years ago.

&#8220It really turned out beautifully,” she said. &#8220A lot of people I told I was going to have the kids paint my car were really skeptical. They knew of the kind of cars you have at a carnival or something, and you give the kids spray paint and you have them paint it and just turns out a big, god-awful mess with graffiti and crap and smiley faces and stuff and I didn't want that to happen to it.”

So she divided up sections of the car for kids to focus on, which helped them to create a masterpiece on metal.

The 15-year-old car, named Heart and Star, is worn out, however. &#8220It won't die on me, though,” she said with a laugh.

She, too, purchased a newer car and found that she missed the friendly attention the Heart and Star brought her way.

&#8220People smile and wave and wind their windows down and yell, ‘Love your car!' It's a great conversation-starter,” she said. &#8220It makes the world a smaller place.”

She has made over her 2002 Mazda Protg; it's a personal vision of beauty with spirals of mirrors glued to its silver surface.

&#8220I have not had a negative reaction to it,” she said.

JAO love

Sometimes the vehicle itself isn't so much a work of art as what goes on inside it. Take, for example, the big, bright yellow, Chevy Silverado driven by the artist known as JAO. In the bed of the truck, she has mounted a 6-foot-by-6-foot-wall.

Don't blink too often around JAO, or you'll miss the excitement.

&#8220I'm a speed painter,” she said. &#8220I'm an artist and athlete. I make giant paintings really fast. I make two 6-foot-by-6-foot paintings in three minutes, accompanied by lightning-fast Eastern European Gypsy music.”

The paintings are the visual equivalent of stream of consciousness writing, freeing her mind from the clutter of life and allowing the art to flow through onto the paper unobstructed. Plus, it's great exercise. JAO says she can get her heart pumping at up to 180 beats per minute when she's speed painting in her pickup.

&#8220Part of my theory is that when your heart rate is elevated like that and you're making art, it's kind of like painting in an emergency situation. It's easier to get outside of the situation and not prejudge what's going on,” she said. &#8220You just do it. It kind of forces you into a creative zone.”

She and her partner drive the truck to fairs, rock concerts, festivals and art car parades, wowing audiences with her high-speed mode of artistic expression.

She's been performance painting for 15 years; three years from the bed of this truck, a vehicle she doesn't really consider an art car.

&#8220It's more like just a decorated vehicle,” she said. &#8220It's mostly a mobile theater; a way to bring my stage around.”

The South Minneapolis resident has a stationary studio in the Seward neighborhood. She's going to be performing in her fourth local ArtCar Parade.

If you'd like more information on this year's parade, go to Intermedia Arts' website, www.intermediaarts.org .

If you're thinking of turning your dull car into art, Elftmann cautions you to think before proceeding. &#8220What I like to tell people, if you're doing an art car, think very carefully about what you want to communicate with people on a daily basis because they're going to ask you questions every single day,” she said. &#8220And it might be the same question every single day, and you might get sick of it.”

Elftmann and Corrigan agree that it's fun driving an art car and being in the ArtCar Parade.

&#8220It's really fun being in the parade,” Corrigan said. &#8220When you drive an art car around, it's like being in a parade anyway.

&#8220It's easy to find your car in the parking lot, too.”

Michael Metzger can be reached at mmetzger@mnpubs.com and 436-4369.