Car Lovers Drive the Automotive Art Market; a Growing Number of Car Enthusiasts Have Come to Appreciate the Beauty of Automobile Art

By Watson, Lisa Crawford | Art Business News, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Car Lovers Drive the Automotive Art Market; a Growing Number of Car Enthusiasts Have Come to Appreciate the Beauty of Automobile Art


Watson, Lisa Crawford, Art Business News


Somewhere between life's luxuries and necessities lie the painterly and sculptural elements of the automobile. Those who appreciate the composition and line, shape and form, color and texture of automotive splendor also tend to appreciate those who can express it on canvas, in bronze or through a lens. So much so, in fact, that a cadre of established artists have identified automotive art as its own genre through their work, and still others have established the Automotive Fine Art Society (AFAS).

"Automotive art really didn't exist or wasn't a recognized field of art until the early '80s," said founding member Ken Eberts of Temecula, Calif. "We were a few artists who individually were interested in painting cars because we loved the subject."

Yet, in 1983, a group of six artists, invited to exhibit their paintings of cars at the Meadowbrook Concours in Detroit, decided to form an alliance whose main purpose was to exchange ideas and keep up with what was going on in automotive art.

"Historically" said Eberts, "automotive art was connected with automotive advertising. From 1900 up until the '70s, car brochures and ads were paintings by artists. So most critics, as soon as they saw a painting of a car, assumed it was a marketing illustration. Today, there is a bona fide genre of automotive art, and we're a large part of it"

Nearly 20 years after that Detroit auto show, 26 fine artists from around the world regularly convene at select shows across the country, such as the Amelia Island Concours d' Elegance in Florida, the Goodwood Festival in England, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California and, making its debut in November, the Hilton Head Concours.

"The Pebble Beach Concours, now that's the prom," said AFAS member Bill Neale of Dallas. "Our first show was out in the parking lot. Now, we're in a marvelous tent on the 18th green. We've really gone far beyond what we expected. Automotive fine art is a strain of interest that runs through the people involved in this event. It is a very artistic subject."

The Art of the Automobile

The automobile was designed with function in mind. It is a machine. And, in most garages across the country, function still precedes form. Yet, the automobile has come a long way since Henry Ford declared we could have any car we wanted as long as we wanted black. To collectors, this machine is not only art, it's state of the art.

The art is the automobile. Hence, although fine artists usually are directed by their own interpretations of the subject, in this genre, they tend to paint not only for themselves but for the collector. The automotive art collector tends to prefer realism. He wants to see the car.

"These collectors are definitely more into automobiles than art," said Jacques Vaucher, owner of L'art et L'automobile gallery in East Hampton, N.Y. "They want to see cars the way they are, not the artist's interpretation. So illustration is probably the most popular style of automotive art. Although different artists take different approaches, realism is an integral part of it. This doesn't necessarily mean photo realism, but collectors do want to identify the car."

During the last decade or so, several fine artists have emerged at the forefront of automotive art, many of whom, including Barry Rowe, Nicole Watts, Ken Dallison and Nicola Wood, are from England, where automotive art became popular long before it caught on in the United States. And many established artists have aligned with the Automotive Fine Art Society, including the late Peter Helck, Walter Gotschke, Jim Dietz and Richard Pietruska, as well as Eberts, Neale, Rowe and Wood.

"I consider myself a fine artist," said Wood, who was selected to paint the theme poster for the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. "I don't really see myself as an automobile artist. I do paintings with automobiles in them. I try to put a kind of mystery in my paintings. …

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