Car Art Shifts into High Gear: When It Comes to Car Enthusiasts and Their Beloved Cars, It's Magic Time. This Truism of American Culture Has Helped Spawn a Growing Number of Car Artists, Whose Styles and Techniques Are as Diverse as the Cars They Portray

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We've celebrated them in Beach Boy songs, James Dean movies and even television shows. Remember "Route 66" and "Starsky and Hutch"? But when it comes to the world of fine art, car art hasn't yet gained the widespread acceptance among publishers and gallery owners as has other genres of "niche art," such as animation art or images of celebrities from the worlds of music, film or sports.

"There are a number of us who are producing collectible, high-level car art that is currently being ignored by galleries," says Tom Hale, a Northville, MI-based painter since 1972, who himself creates colorful and reflective acrylics on canvas of vintage cars in imagined settings.

A former styling designer at General Motors, Chrysler and American Motors (1966-1985), Hale has participated in nearly 400 art exhibits and shows around the country and last year curated a special exhibition at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, MI, held to help celebrate the Krasl's 25th Anniversary. Hale named the exhibition "Art. Automobiles. Passion." and it featured the works of nine renowned car artists, including himself.

Other artists featured in the exhibit included David Chapple of Grand Blanc, MI, and British-born, L.A.-based Nicola Wood.

Chapple's work is characterized by vivid colors, unusual reflections and glitzy backdrops ranging from New York's Time Square to tropical beachscapes. A painter for 15 years, who fondly recalls restoring cars with his dad as a young boy through his teen years, Chapple says that "automobiles are very important to America's nostalgic culture," but agrees with Hale that the genre of automotive art hasn't yet gained the respect it deserves throughout the art world. He adds, however, that he does expect that to change in years to come as more galleries and publishers begin representing automotive artists.

For now, Chapple will continue capturing the intrigue of vintage cars against plush naturescapes or a mighty metropolis through his acrylics. In addition to fine art fairs, including Artexpo New York, and car exhibitions, such as the Concours d'Elegance exhibitions, Chapple's work can be found in corporate collections by companies such as DuPont, McDonald's, Merillat Cabinets and Lockheed Martin. His paintings are also featured in the book, Crazy About Cars: Reflections from Behind the Wheel, written by Ken Owen and published by Harvest House Publishers in 2003.

Nicola Wood brings to the automotive art world a female perspective that is fresh and innovative. Her images of vintage cars, ranging from Cadillacs and Chevrolets to Delahayes (French-made cars produced until 1954), are as innovative in the way the cars are depicted as they are for the settings.

For example, in one of her most striking images, "Delahaye in Death Valley," a bright red car with gleaming chrome and bold whitewall tires sits atop a leopard pattern with an elegant woman shown in a long, flowing sand-colored dress, a broad-brimmed sunhat and a leopard-patterned umbrella. The woman is standing in front of the magnificent machine as a powerful leopard lies peacefully behind her.

While such settings are products of Wood's imagination, this setting directly involved Wood herself, who drove out into the desert with a friend so that she could be photographed in the ensemble atop a 700-ft. sand dune. She laughs good-naturedly as she remembers sinking into the sand while fully dressed in the formal attire.

In another image, "Rockettes," Wood depicts the renowned Radio City Music Hall precision dance troupe performing in front of an audience of vintage Cadillacs.

Sandwiched in between her formal art education--Royal College of Art in London and Parsons School of Design in New York--Wood executed her first published work, a book cover for Tennessee Williams's Night of the Iguana; produced several illustrations commissioned by CBS to promote a documentary series; and had a successful career as a fabric and wallpaper designer in England, while under contract to Germany-based Rasch Tapetanfabric. …