Playful vehicles will show up at several upcoming events.
It’s no wonder that people automatically assume that Patti Paulson sells makeup. A 6-foot lipstick sculpture is perched on the roof of her vehicle in the “rocket launch position.”
When she was putting together the Lipstick Car, as she calls it, Paulson kissed its exterior 1,501 times, intentionally leaving bold red lipstick imprints on it. She incorporated her “kisses” into the design. Actual lipstick and compact cases can be found all over her ArtCar, as well.
Paulson, a Robbinsdale artist, also has an art bike that she covered in yarn — “yarn-bombing,” she said. Just as she expresses her personality through her wardrobe and her garden, the Lipstick Car is an extension of herself. “So many things are about buying this or that. I don’t sell a thing. I think that delights people,” she said, adding that the fancifully decorated Pontiac Vibe is all in the name of fun.
She’s found a community of like-minded people, many who participate in the annual ArtCar and ArtBike Parade, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The group has a full schedule of events in the coming months, starting with Grand Old Day in St. Paul on June 1. On July 26, the group will host its 20th annual ArtCar and ArtBike Parade at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The event has become one of the longest-running and largest events of its type in the country, she said.
It brings together an all-leather car, fairy truck, couch mobile, turtle car, hippie van and button car, among many others. This year, to mark the occasion, the group will congregate at the Lyndale Park Rose Garden at the lake following the parade. People will be able to check out the ArtCars up close, meet their owners and take in live music, Paulson said.
The annual parade began with a modest five vehicles. In the early days, people joked, “How many art cars does it take to make a parade?” said its founder, Jan Elftmann, who lives in Minneapolis. Today, the ArtCar group has a mailing list of 75, she said.
The group finds opportunities to get together year-round. Occasionally, they just go cruising en masse, too, she said.
The wintertime ArtCar parade on ice is probably the only one like it in the world. “People can’t believe we drive on frozen lakes,” said Elftmann, who encrusted her Honda Civic with round-shaped items she’d accumulated through time, including coins, plates and buttons.
Luckily, the stuff has stayed intact over the past nine years. “Art car people are always discussing the best glue to use. You can’t have things flying off,” especially with the weather extremes in Minnesota, she said.
Previously, she drove the Cork Truck, which was covered with thousands of wine corks that she saved from her waitressing years. Elftmann, who leads ArtCar workshops, sees the cars as a way to bring art to people outside of galleries. “My mission in life is to bring art and creativity everywhere,” she said. Plus, it means “every day is a parade.”
The ArtCar phenomenon
Ruthann Godollei, a St. Paul resident and an art professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, co-authored the book, “Road Show: Art Cars and the Museums of the Streets,” with Eric Dregni. She’s on her eighth ArtCar. Each has featured hand-stenciled gears.
From what she can tell, people have decked out their cars in outlandish ways “since they had wheels.”
The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, was buried with his bronze and gold chariot in 210 B.C., she said. Also, Minnesota Historical Society records show parades of decorated Model Ts and the like in the early 1900s, she said.
It’s hard to say just how many ArtCars are on the road nowadays, though hundreds of them can be seen at various regional festivals across the country and she’s seeing more and more all the time. Godollei credited that to the Internet. The web has helped to spread the word about the art form, she said, adding that art bikes and scooters are also a trend.
Some ArtCar owners have formal art training. The creations run the gamut. “Some astonish you with their creativity. They transform the car into something otherworldly,” while others have a political or religious purpose, she said.
She envisions more eco-friendly cars becoming ArtCars, much like the Japanese bamboo car she happened upon, she said. Whatever the motivation, ArtCars are “a way of personalizing a mass-produced object,” she said. Also, “You take the art show with you wherever you go.”
In a traffic jam, the last thing that people expect to see is art, she said. That makes for refreshingly honest reactions on the spot, she said. Often, it tempers road rage. “You’ll be at a turn and someone is honking the horn and then they see it and they say ‘wow.’ It makes everything different. It makes a crowded parking lot a little more civil,” she said.