Driven to create, created to drive

THE WEDGE — Few people see Shawn Allison’s “Karma Chameleon” and just shrug their shoulders.

“They say it’s either weird or fantastic or it’s beautiful or it’s ugly,” Allison said. “Everybody has an opinion.”

Apparently, nothing brings out the inner art critic like a rhinestone-studded, glittering green 1979 Cadillac covered in a menagerie of plastic bugs and lizards. And nothing invites criticism like making an art car your everyday vehicle.

“I had one brother up on Chicago [Avenue] and Lake [Street]” — Allison recalled — “I drove by him and he said, ‘Hey man, you’re gonna go to Cadillac hell for what you’ve done to that Cadillac.’”

Allison, a burly, bearded guy in a Sturgis T-shirt and black jeans, let loose with a hoarse chuckle.

“I got such a kick out of that one,” he said, grinning. “That was great.”

Allison was inspired to transform his staid Caddy into the exuberant “Karma Chameleon” after watching Minneapolis’ annual ArtCar Parade, which returns to the Lyn-Lake area July 21. Now sponsored by CarSoup.com, the parade is in its 13th year.

Specifically, it was parade founder Jan Elftmann’s “Cork Truck” that caught Allison’s eye.

“Cork Truck” is, just as you’d expect, a truck covered in corks — thousands of them, flowing in undulating patterns across her 1987 Mazda pickup.

For Elftmann, a graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, her art car was about transforming “many, many mundane things” into something new and interesting.

Elftmann said she was inspired by “Camera Van,” a 1972 Dodge van covered in 2,500 cameras by Berkley, Calif., artist Harrod Blank. Blank is the guest of honor at this year’s parade.

(So, listen: If you don’t want to mess with the factory finish on your vehicle, just skip the parade. The impulse to create an art car is, apparently, contagious.)

Elftmann said a record 80 wheeled pieces of art will parade down West 28th Street to Intermedia Arts this year. The parade includes non-motorized vehicles, like bicycles and wheelchairs, too.

If “Karma Chameleon” makes it to this year’s parade, it will be by tow truck. She threw a rod on the way back from another art car show last winter, Allison said.

Still, Allison’s artistic impulse won’t be reined-in. He has a new vehicle — a Volkswagen — and his car art has entered a new, more contemporary phase.

“I like the style of this car,” he said, looking over the asphalt-grey four-door. “I’ve been thinking about it, and (I’ve) been wanting to make it a little more flashy than it is. So, I decided to stud it out.”

Allison picked up a bunch of metal studs at an upholstery supply store and, using his “glue-and-screw” technique, he started sticking them everywhere: outside, inside, even under the hood. A few weeks later, it looked like a studded leather biker jacket on wheels.

“You’re never done,” he said, evaluating his progress a month before the parade. “When you’re creating an art car, there’s always room for something else. There’s always a spot.”


The 13th annual CarSoup.com ArtCar Parade is 2 p.m. July 21. Parade vehicles stage at 1 p.m. on West 28th Street between Hennepin and Emerson avenues. The parade route follows West 28th Street to Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.

For an audio slideshow featuring Shawn Allison’s “Karma Chameleon” art car, go to www.swjournal.com.