« How many people does it take to crush a grape? | Main | Meyer, Wattle to lead Yorkville Highlands appellation into second decade »

October 4, 2007

Vehicle for expression: "Art car" takes shape in Napa

The collaborative work of Oxbow art students and car artist David Best in its finished state.
Photo by Jorgen Gulliksen/Register Photo

Vehicle for expression : Burning Man sculptor helps Oxbow students' "art car" take shape

Register Correspondent
Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the normally serene south bank of the Napa River Oxbow, a startling transformation has taken place.

What was once an autobahn-worthy Audi A4, the object of envious glances from fans of German engineering, has been reborn as an eye-popping “art car,” with its next destination likely to be a museum, gallery or private collection.

Over the past 10 days, the Audi’s original form has gradually disappeared under a thick covering of thousands of found and recycled objects, from tiny beads to seashells, rocks to parts from other cars, all painstakingly applied by teenaged Oxbow School students under the direction of artist-in-residence David Best.

“Do you like it?” Best asks a visitor.

It’s a disarmingly simple question, given the jaw-dropping spectacle parked at the west end of the Oxbow campus:

The Audi’s side mirrors now sport plated butter-dishes and glass fruit. Dashboard and steering wheel are lined with fur. The trunk has become a luridly-lit Inferno, complete with tiny sufferers; swirls of colorful Mardi Gras beads enliven the rear end where, grinning, a Buddha raises his arms in jubilation.

The car’s evolution from assembly-line product to elaborately detailed artwork recalls Ariel’s song from “The Tempest:” “Of his bones are Corrall made: Those are pearles that were his eies, Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a Sea-change Into something rich & strange.”

Like Shakespeare’s drowned mariner, the motorcar has gradually become a glittering sculpture: rich in materials, strange to see.

“We’re trying to make it unrecognizable, so you can’t tell it’s an Audi,” said 16-year-old Casey Gollan, an Oxbow student from Rye, N.Y., as he worked on the car last Wednesday.

Even then, with a week to go, it would have taken a shrewd eye to detect the auto’s original make; today, the sea change is complete.

Burning Man to Oxbow
A Petaluma-based artist, born in 1945 and widely known for his filigreed plywood “temples” set aflame at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada, Best has created dozens of sculptures from cars and buses, using a profusion of recycled and found materials.

Two of his reinvented automobiles are in the collection at Napa’s di Rosa Preserve, most prominently the imposing “Rhinocar,” in the Gatehouse Gallery.

In the process — necessarily collaborative, with the sheer volume of work required — of transforming each vehicle inside and out, he’s engaged the help of more than 10,000 people.

Best’s latest act of group alchemy involves the 40 high-school students currently attending Oxbow’s semester-long residential program in fine arts.

The deeply-tanned, white-bearded sculptor kicked off his 10-day stay on campus with a public lecture at Copia Sept. 24, delighting the audience with his anything-but-stuffy presentation.

“The slides were the best part, because there was food and hair and dust all over them,” said Oxbow student Audrey Snyder, 16, of Tiburon.

It’s “part of his philosophy,” added classmate Gollan. “I guess he likes the spontaneity … of not having it be a perfect Powerpoint.”

The slides and narrative gave Oxbow students — many of whom had never heard of Best before enrolling, or only knew his recycled-plywood temples — an appreciation for the veteran sculptor they’d be working with over the next 10 days.

“I’ve never (before) met an actual, practicing artist,” Snyder said. “It was really cool to see what he was doing and to see the enormous body of work that he has, because it’s really impressive and really big.”

Bottles to sculptures
Before tackling the Audi last week, Best had his students start small, applying found objects and natural materials to wine bottles with adhesives and techniques they’d be using on the car.

Outside the Oxbow studios, the parked A4 was surrounded by tables, bins and boxes containing the stuff of its transfiguration:

Buckets filled with Mardi Gras beads, with chipped-glass finials, with cabinet handles and drawer pulls, with seashells. Bins of chopsticks, game pieces, marbles, plastic icicles, real starfish.

A box of colored balls; a litter of fiberglass auto-body parts; a heap of tiny plastic swans: These hardly begin the list of items that made their way onto the Audi as the bins and buckets gradually emptied and beads increasingly littered the ground.

Best is a devoted recycler, a frequent visitor to his local dump who believes that the fundamental impulse to create can make use of any material at hand — including pebbles from the Oxbow grounds.

He’s also apt to share his philosophy through parables:

“If we were all stripped of all our possessions … if this was our whole society, someone here would make shelter,” he said to the Wednesday afternoon Oxbow class as they worked on the car.

“Someone would be the historian, the chronicler, and write our stuff. Someone would create the mythology, or our religion, or develop us into a church,” he went on.

“Somebody would do food, someone would make art.

“Just like we need food and shelter and religion and literature, we need art,” Best continued. “If we didn’t have any materials we’d … go dig up the mud.

“It’s not about limitations, it’s about ‘I want to make stuff.’”

Funding more visits
This won’t be the students’ only opportunity this term to work with renowned sculptors: Artists-in-residence Deborah Butterfield and John Buck arrive Oct. 29 for a 10-day stay, and Oxbow director Stephen Thomas said Butterfield has already requested materials for a group project.

For now, the art-car endeavor has captured the imagination of Oxbow students like 16-year-old Julia Glennon of San Francisco:

“I’ve pretty much been glued to the car since we started it,” Glennon said Sunday afternoon, as she labored to attach tiny green beads to a passenger door with sticky black adhesive.

“The car takes on its own personality,” Glennon continued. “You can put into it what you want to put into it, but it still becomes what it’s going to be.”

Best’s Oxbow stay is part of the school’s visiting-artist series, which includes residencies and a series of free public lectures at Copia (the next, by Napa artist Lewis deSoto, is Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.).

When Best leaves Napa this week, the car will remain for up to a year, during which Oxbow School has leave to sell it to a museum, gallery or private collection at market price. The proceeds will fund future lectures from visiting artists, Best said.

If no legitimate purchaser is found within 12 months, the auto will go to its sculptor so that he can make sure it’s properly stored.

Best usually gives his art cars simple, serial names — this one he’s calling “D.C. 38,” or “Decorated Car 38.”

But it’s likely to be known best as Oxbow Car (Oxcar for short, suggested Glennon), in honor of its birthplace – and of the 40 fledgling artists who took such an active part in its creation on the Oxbow riverbank.

Oxbow School is taking applications from high-school students through the end of this year for its spring semester, which begins Jan. 23. For more information, contact the school at 255-6000 or visit www.oxbowschool.org.

Editor’s Note: For additional information contact Pam Hunter- 707-258-1699 x 15 or Pamela@studio-707.com

Posted by Pamela at October 4, 2007 3:23 PM| Share on Facebook | Art Education, Non-wine activities in Napa Valley, Oxbow School

Studio 707 Blog