When cars become works of art

John Lennon had his paisley Rolls-Royce, Janis Joplin had a psychedelic Porsche 356 and George Harrison had his Mini decorated with scenes from a mystical Indian book. If you’re looking for a way to make sure your vehicle stands out from the crowd or simply want to try out your talents on a new form of canvas, why not join the growing number of Art Car enthusiasts and invest in a mobile masterpiece or, alternatively, create a custom paint job of your very own.

A little history

Art cars have been around almost as long as the motor car itself. Sonia Delaunay used a Citroen B12 as a mobile canvas to display her bold, abstract designs all the way back in 1925. Many others followed but it wasn’t until hippies started painting their VW Beetles in the late sixties and early seventies that the idea of using cars in this way really took off.

Over the course of the next few years, the annual, week-long Burning Man festival that takes place in Nevada will expand not only the number of participants but also the number of art cars and modified vehicles on display at the event. Around 600 art cars were featured in 2017 and it is hoped this number will be expanded to up to 1,000 – the largest single display of such vehicles anywhere in the world.

BMW joins the party

The car manufacturer most closely associated with Art Cars is BMW. Since 1975 the Germany company has regularly commissioned leading artists to create a paint job for selected race and road vehicle. Past artists include David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol and the vehicles sporting their designs are considered every bit as valuable as their more conventional artworks.

In 2017, the 18th such vehicle was unveiled, painted by rising start of the contemporary art work, Cao Fei. She is the first Chinese artist and the youngest ever artist to be invited to take part in the BMW project. The car, unveiled in July 2017, was a M6 GT3 model in matt carbon black but Cao Fei used the latest augmented reality technology to transform it into a living sculpture with beams of light dancing all around it.

This project was followed closely by BMW Art Car #19, a M6 GTLM model created by Californian conceptual artist John Baldessari.  Known for the minimalist nature of his work. Baldessari’s effort was the opposite of that of Cao Fei with only a few splashes of color visible across the white surface of the vehicle.


If you want to start an art car project of your own, the first step it to acquire a suitable vehicle. Your budget and the availability of workshop space will determine whether you begin searching for a classic Mini Cooper for sale or something more modest, but whatever vehicle you begin with, the key is to let your imagination run riot.

Closely related to Art Cars are mutant vehicles. These are more reminiscent of the kind of vehicles that would populate a Mad Max movie. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two – and a little controversy between the two camps of creators as a result – the main distinction is usually that Art Cars can be legally driven on the street while mutant vehicles cannot.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *