Chron: Hit The Road

Here’s an art car story that ran in the Chron prior to the parade. It’s a traditional feel-good pre-parade story. Very unlike the Sunday, post-parade attempt to stir the hornets nest.

HIT THE ROAD

Bumper-to-bumper funky – For many artists, Houston’s Art Car Parade is a chance to show off their skills in front of thousands

May 9, 2007, 7:02PM
By EILEEN McCLELLAND
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Giant electric toasters, dancing lobsters, fire-breathing dragons, pirate ships, life-size statues of ZZ Top.

You name it, think it or dream it, and you might see it on the road during Saturday’s 20th annual Houston Art Car Parade. This year artists from at least 16 states will send 250 vehicles of all descriptions for a ride down Allen Parkway.

Houston’s is the oldest and largest art-car parade in the world, a party put on annually by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. Last year, more than 200,000 people watched a flying saucer, a fat rat and a collection of penguins all ride into downtown.

Beyond striving to reach new heights of creative expression, artists also vie for $10,000 in awards in 14 categories. Awards will be presented during the Orange Show Brunch and Awards Ceremony, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday at the Orange Show, 2402 Munger.

Here’s a glimpse at what four regulars are working on for this year’s parade:

Stumper

eyes
Beneath layers of chicken wire, fiberglass and steel, Stumper has the soul of an ’84 Dodge Power Ram pickup.”I take the existing shape of the vehicle and, without modifying everything, I make the design around what’s available,” says Brian “Visker” Mahanay of Houston. “So I was looking for the right shape and the right length and everything. When I saw that truck on Craigslist, I bought it the same day.”

That momentous day was Oct. 6, 2006.

“I drew the picture, and once the picture was done we were off and running — well, $8,000 later we were off and running.”

Stumper has been described as all kinds of monsters but got its name because it defies description and routinely stumps onlookers.

“I guess describing it as a dragon would be the easiest thing,” Visker said — a dragon as viewed from the filter of a hot-rod-culture cartoon, a culture Visker cites as his inspiration.

Creator of last year’s Noggin del Fuego, Visker has outfitted his current monster with some very cool accessories — a flamethrower.

“The flamethrower will shoot a big fireball out of the top — synchronized to music,” he says. “It’s a glorified barbecue grill.”

Stumper has three electrical systems, four batteries and solar chargers on the roof.

“It’s quite an electrical feat,” Visker says.

All his mobile fabrications are street-legal and pass inspection. But no separate inspection is necessary for the flamethrower. “Not enough people add mobile flamethrowers to their cars,” he explains.

But no one need fear the flamethrower.

“They won’t let me shoot off the fireball at the parade,” Visker says.

Parade goers also will miss the light show on Stumper‘s back. Computer-controlled LEDs light up its lumpy silver spine for a spectacular show, but only at night.

Visker was attracted to the art-car culture the first time he saw the parade: “Other cities have weirdness, but they’re weird in different ways,” he says.

Cher du Love

flame w/ gasMark “Scrap Daddy” Bradford is strapped to the back of a two-story, two-part creature as it lurches at 2 — or possibly 3 — mph down the street outside his studio.He is nearly upside down, his foot working a pedal that controls the monster-size insect’s head movements.

He insists it’s comfortable.

“I wanted a spaceship seat, and that’s what that is,” he says.

Cher du Love is actually two vehicles attached with an umbilical cord. And it was far from easy to pull off.

“I’ve been working on that piece for three years, trying to get it to work,” Bradford says, “but I think I’ve got it now. I was going to start on another one, but I’m just so happy that I’ve done the work to make this one work for the parade.”

The problem? The creature just wouldn’t walk fast enough until this year.

“There’s a certain speed that you have to get it to go,” he says. “You have to make it go up the hills, too. Even though it’s a short course, it’s still challenging, or has been for me with that sculpture.”

Bradford works with recycled materials. He’s made art cars almost completely from spoons.

In this case, only the hydraulic pump and hoses are new.

“The knees are X-ray-machine arms, and the spine is an excavator boom, and recycled copper wire is the hair. There are spoons on the head, and the cart is a satellite dish and a trailer. It’s propelled by a motor from a wrecked car.”

This marks Bradford’s 18th year entering the parade.

“It’s meant so much to me because as a young artist 20 years ago it was a way for people to see my work,” he said. “What a great way to make contraptions and share them with people. I’ve used these sculptures as a résumé to get other work.”

Money Honey

feelersToni Silva is an art-car purist and a bit of a minimalist. Not for her towering sculptures with glued- or welded-on spare parts.

This year she’s driving Money Honey, a ’59 lowrider Chevy that has been painted an eerie flat black to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Roswell, N.M., UFO incident.

“She was green,” Silva says. “Now she is a completely different car.”

The project is fairly simple: Painting on a logo recalling the 1947 crash site.

The minimalism will extend to wardrobe.

“I might find some alien sunglasses,” Silva says, “but I’ve told people just to wear green T-shirts. Alien outfits are a little warm. I feel for people who do the heavy outfits. When you’re riding in there, it is hot.”

Silva’s history with art cars predates the parade.

“In 1982 I first asked artist Jackie Harris to paint my 1978 Datsun — to paint a dragon on it. It came back, and she had painted it from the hood all the way around the car, with the tail ending at the driver’s door.”

Inspired, she and other students at Lawndale Art Center decided to have an impromptu parade around the neighborhood.

“We were doing it five years before the Orange Show got ahold of it,” she says. “By the time the festival came around, there were a whole bunch of us who had been doing it for a while, riding around in these crazy-looking cars.”

“Now it keeps getting more and more sculptural, but when it started we just painted cars. Although, Barbarella (a 1947 Buick) has a giant cockroach on it. That’s the only sculptural part of a car that we’ve had so far.”

Fandango

waltripNicole Ahlers, 19, has been in Rebecca Bass’ art-car class at Waltrip High School for four years.She’s learned the importance of teamwork — along with a variety of other skills she probably didn’t imagine she’d pick up in high school.

“I never thought you could carve something out of Styrofoam,” Ahlers says. “We learn how to create things out of Styrofoam and glue everything with silicone. I learned how to craft something from hand.”

About 15 of Bass’ students are transforming a ’92 Buick LeSabre into a rolling tribute to Houston’s own ZZ Top.

Fandango, the Little Ol’ Car From Texas is a joyously over-the-top assemblage of foam, plastic, synthetic stucco, glue, pennies, high-heel shoes, beads, junk jewelry, Harley parts and even television sets, all in homage to the legendary bearded band.

“We’ve never counted how many strands of beads or anything else that’s going on a car,” Ahlers says. “If I did try to guess, it would probably be an undershot.”

Bass says she picked up construction skills from working on movie sets. She has also taught welding the past couple of years.

“This is what I do,” Bass says.

Bass and her students have quite a track record, winning or placing in 16 of the 17 years entered. Last year’s grand-prize-winning Atomic Dog, homage to funkmaster George Clinton, was sent to the Essen Motor Show in Germany. Brady Carruth of Houston stepped up to help the students bring the Atomic Dog home. The Carruth Foundation will contribute approximately $16,000 to ship the car from Germany back to Houston.

One technical problem with Fandango that the group was still trying to work out in late April was wiring a TV to play ZZ Top videos during the parade.

Why ZZ Top?

“A lot of their parents listen to ZZ Top, they grew up listening to ZZ Top, and they wanted to have the music. Music is really an inspiration for them, and that was one of the big things.”

A few of her students have graduated into their own art cars. Ahlers, though, may take a break next year as she pursues a major in equine medical science at Texas A&M.

“I don’t know if A&M would appreciate having an art car sitting outside,” she says.

eileen.mcclelland@chron.com