February 2, 2001

West Coast Premiere of "Customized: Art Inspired by Hot Rods, Low Riders, and American Car Culture"

“Dave’s Dream”, Meridel Rubenstein. Irene Maria and Dave Jaramillo, San Juan New Mexico, 1980.

Escondido — "Customized: Art inspired by Hot Rods, Low Riders, and American Car Culture," which opens to the public on Sunday, February 11, 2001 at the Museum, California Center for the Arts, Escondido, examines the artists who have defined the imagery and attitude of American car culture as well as the contemporary artists who have drawn upon hot rod and low rider culture for inspiration. The thirteen artists included in the exhibition use a variety of mediums; including painting, installation, sculpture, poster art, photography, and drawing to interpret America's love affair with the automobile.

Artists in the exhibition include: Fiona Banner; Coop; Von Dutch; Sylvie Fleury; Alex Harris; Craig McDean; David Perry; Richard Prince; Ed "Big Daddy" Roth; Meridel Rubenstein; Rubén Ortiz Torres; Jimi V; and Robert Williams.

A renegade culture of hot rodding began in the 1940s and 1950s—with its rites and customs being passed from generation to generation. Early hot rodders stripped down cheap roadsters, making them lighter and faster, while souping up their engines and painting them with menacing flames and stripes. While hot rodding's emphasis is on speed, low riders are meant to be driven slowly and to be seen in all their detail. Espoused by predominantly Latino automotive enthusiasts, low riders often have multihued paint jobs, elaborate upholstery and decorative effects inside and out as well as "trick" hydraulic suspension systems that can raise or lower a car, even make it dance, at will.

Based on traditions from the early days of hot rodding, a group of outsider artists in the 1960s created a medium of their own, where the accent is on excellence of execution and mechanics combined with a certain hard-edged, cynical bent. Influential among this group were three artists: Von Dutch, who is credited with introducing and setting the standards for the art of pinstriping and flaming vehicles; Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, who revolutionized the hot rod world by building wild cars from scratch and created the hot-rod icon Rat Fink for his booming t-shirt business; and Robert Williams, who took cartoon images of hot-rod culture to a new level as art director for Ed Roth and then as an artist for Zap Comix before crossing over to the world of contemporary art with his over-the-top canvases in a style aptly named "comic Surrealism."

The legendary trio of Von Dutch, Roth, and Williams paved the way for the next generation of artists who used and appropriated their designs, such as the flying eyeball, Rat Fink, pin-up girls, and devils, and introduced these icons to a whole new audience. At the same time, hot rod culture intersected with an entirely new sub-culture or rock `n roll, influencing poster artists like Coop, whose art has appeared on posters and album covers as well as magazine illustrations and East Coast artist Jimi V whose spray painted graffiti imagery draws from hot rodding and poster art.

“Kustom Mambo”, Rubén Ortiz Torres.

Using still and video cameras, artists such as David Perry, Craig McDean, Alex Harris, Meridel Rubenstein, and Rubén Ortiz Torres have documented the vehicles, people and culture of low riders and hot rodders. Photographer David Perry captures a broad view of hot rod culture, ranging from the dark chop shops to the youth who epitomize the look and fashion of the culture. Craig McDean, an internationally recognized fashion photographer, documents the car culture he knew growing up next to a racetrack. Fascinated by the people who attend races, McDean creates portraits of people and cars as though they were superstars.

Harris, Rubenstein, and Ortiz Torres each bring their individual perspectives to documenting low rider culture. In his color photographs, Alex Harris, co-founder of Doubletake Magazine, places the low rider as a focal point in the American landscape. Like Harris, Meridel Rubenstein takes portraits of low riders in the landscape, but using a more traditional documentary approach also includes the owners, standing proudly by their cars. Using a variety of media, Ruben Ortiz Torres explores cultural representation of Chicano life along the border of Southern California and Mexico. In his video Kustom Mambo, imagery of low riders, illegal aliens' flight across the border, police surveillance, and Chicano gatherings is accompanied by a fast-paced mambo-infused soundtrack.

With the rise of Pop Art, internationally known contemporary artists began to draw on hot rodding's icons and imagery to develop their own unique hot rod aesthetic. Artists Fiona Banner, Sylvie Fleury, and Richard Prince have borrowed and transformed the conventions of car culture into film and sculptural installations. Banner is known for her handwritten and printed texts (which she calls wordscapes or stillfilms) that she creates of her own narration from action sequences in feature films. In her wordscape from the car-chase scene in Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, Banner's text literally reacts to the scene's action by the sentences getting closer together as it gradually becomes more tense and harried. Swiss artist Fleury explores the stereotype that cars are a male outlet for customization and fashion a female one. Using various customization processes such as chroming or flaming, Fleury's installation of appropriated objects evoke a female version of car culture. Also appropriating source material, Richard Prince repaints hoods from muscle cars that he admires, which, combined with the isolated design, captures the essence of the hot rod.

"Customized: Art Inspired by Hot Rods, Low Riders, and American Car Culture" goes on display February 11, 2001 at The Museum, California Center for the Arts, Escondido is located at 340 North Escondido Blvd. in Escondido. Museum hours are: Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; and Sunday, Noon to 5:00 p.m.

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