Anybody who has lived in Portland for long has undoubtedly seen one. Part mobile sculpture, part performance art, the Rose City’s collection of art cars has been adding a unique element to the city’s culture and image, not to mention its traffic, for many years.
Portland’s community of car artists is an informal grouping of do-it-yourself and professional artists and pranksters, and together they have been an active and highly visible element of the city’s vibrant and ever-expanding art culture.
“It’s about a half dozen people who’ve known each other for 15, 20, 25 years,” says unofficial organizer Emily Hall, an art car fan and on-again, off-again art car driver. “We’re all just friends who have hung together. We’ve all had our various iterations of art cars over the years.”
Recently though, Portland’s art cars have gained more local attention, and will soon be seen by television watchers nationwide. In October of last year, Wieden+Kennedy had local art cars participate in the advertising agency’s display of local DIY artists as part of First Thursday.
Moreover, Portland art cars will be featured in an upcoming episode of Portlandia, the Independent Film Channel’s popular sketch comedy show based in and starring the city of Portland.
“We were all getting together every week, tuning in [to the show], and … saying we were pretty much what made Portland weird ... and we deserve to be recognized,” Hall explains. After some e-mailing and negotiations, the producers of Portlandia agreed to feature the local art cars on the condition that everyone would behave. The episode will be part of the show’s second season, and will shoot on September 13.
For those interested in getting to know Portland’s art cars before they make their national cable television debut, here’s some information on prominent local art cars and drivers, so that the next time you pull up beside one in traffic you’ll know who—and, more important, what—you’re looking at.
The Fin Car Driven by Bill Lockner
Bill Lockner’s car is a 1979 Volvo that has been enhanced and rebuilt using scrap yard metal, and car parts that were bound for the landfill.
“It started out stock,” Lockner explains, “and as time went by, things got added to it.” These things include truck fenders, the back end of a Rambler, and a fin.
“[The Fin Car] was an idea to use up and change a car that to me represented soccer moms in the ‘70s,” Lockner says. “Every soccer mom had a ‘79 Volvo.”
Lockner’s car features a removable fin, naturally, and is fully operational. He has driven his car to art car festivals throughout Washington, and regularly services his car to keep it running for everyday use.
“What I like about it is that it makes me laugh,” Lockner says. “Wherever I go, when I drive it, it makes me laugh.”
Lockner has owned five or six art cars over the years, and currently has another that’s a work in progress. His newest car project is a 1975 Gremlin that Lockner hopes to turn into a kinetic sculpture.
The Trophy Wife Car Driven by Cupcake MacFastlane (a.k.a. Marci MacFarlane)
Like the Fin Car, Cupcake MacFastlane’s Trophy Wife Car incorporates artistic elements once considered garbage. A pink, red, and white 1975 Dodge Dart, the Trophy Wife Car was turned into a convertible with the help of a Sawzall®. MacFastlane’s car features trophies as hood ornaments, interior seats lined with paintings found in the dumpster, and an interior dashboard covered with earrings that once belonged to the driver’s mother.
As many of Portland’s art cars do, the Trophy Wife Car features an on-board public address system, which, MacFastlane explains, can be used to broadcast messages or play music.
“We often play [songs from] Wizard of Oz,” MacFastlane says, “leaving a wake of smiles as we drive by people on street corners.”
The Never Never Van Driven by Extremo the Clown (a.k.a. Scott Campbell)
For many years, Extremo the Clown drove the most noticeable art car in the city of Portland. Extremo—the professional artist Scott Campbell—is known for wearing distinctive clown makeup, driving with performing puppets, singing karaoke, and laughing manically.
“Scott has a little bit of a compulsion,” Emily Hall says, “and the compulsion is clown face.”
Besides his work as Extremo the Clown, Campbell is a successful and prolific graphic artist. His primary form of artistic expression, and income, is painting advertisements in the windows of local businesses.
“Anywhere you go in Portland, you’re going to see these goofy window paintings,” Hall says. “And he makes a really great, straight living off that.”
Extremo the Clown maintains an active presence on YouTube, which hosts videos of his local television appearances, and has shown all types of unique art around town.
Extremo’s well-known car, the MSV, no longer runs. The Never Never Van, his current work in progress, is based on the story of Peter Pan.
The Vehicle Driven by Victor Hoornstra
According to Emily Hall, Victor Hoornstra refuses to give a title or ascribe any specific major theme to his art car, a 1981 Volvo 240 that has been customized into a convertible.
The Vehicle’s sides are adorned with leaping flames, and the exterior is painted over with skeletons. Crows, cats, and metallic lizards give the Vehicle the hint of a nature theme. Add that to the bird sounds played over the on-board PA, and other drivers or pedestrians may think they’ve locked down the overarching artistic vision of this art car.
Emily Hall politely disagrees: “[Victor] believes it’s all up to the interpretation of the beholder.”
The Danger Car et al. Driven by the Reverend C.E. Linville
A definitive Portlander if ever there was one, the Reverend C.E. Linville provides legal quickie weddings—married in ten minutes or the wedding is free—and was featured in Chuck Palahniuk’s non-fiction travelogue of Portland sights and haunts, Fugitives and Refugees.
The Reverend Linville has been a member of and participant in the activities of the world-famous Cacophony Society, and currently has three road-ready art cars. Among those are the Danger Car, a car equipped with a World War II-era air raid siren, and the Ass Car.
“[My cars] have always been more like exaggerations of cars,” Linville says. “More like a rolling prank.”
The Ass Car is the Reverend Linville’s current primary art car, and is covered with images of the rear ends of dogs. In his years as a Portland prankster, the Reverend Linville has developed an artistic style that incorporates performance and confusion, and this style can elicit some reactions from the people he comes across.
“What I like is confusion more than confrontation, so these cars kind of fit that bill,” Linville says. “I think the more stuff you put on, the less crap you’re likely to get. Because people are either afraid of you, or there is just too much stuff to look at and their mind shuts down.”
The Reverend Linville embodies what the art car community in Portland represents: boisterous and highly visible art that demands attention, and turns even the most passive observers into participants.
View the slideshow for images of art cars, or visit our Flickr gallery:
Photos © Neighborhood Notes