When showing his cars in Europe, Fletcher sometimes dresses to match his cars. When he built a tribute to The Beatles called The Yellow Submobile, he donned a uniform and a Ringo Starr mustache and became "Sergeant Fletcher." At one showing of The Ice Princess — a sleek white and blue car with futuristic pointy fins and sci-fi bubble top windows — he dressed up as "Jack Frost."

He got the costuming idea, he says, from Harrod Blank, whom he met at a car show in Europe in 1989. Blank had built a "Camera Van," covered completely with decorative lenses, flash cubes, and functioning cameras, that took and developed photos of onlookers' reactions.

"He was in Europe to promote that, and he had made this suit covered in flash cubes," Fletcher recalls. "I thought that was absolutely brilliant. They flashed all over, indiscriminately. It was just brilliant, this damn thing. He changed my attitude toward car shows, because after that, I thought, 'Okay, if you want to get the press, dress the part for the car.' So I became the pirate, I became Sergeant Fletcher."

The Madonna car by Jose Benavides.
Jamie Peachey
The Madonna car by Jose Benavides.
Jose Benavides' community art project, the "Guitar Car," when it was in progress at Mesa Arts Center.
Jamie Peachey
Jose Benavides' community art project, the "Guitar Car," when it was in progress at Mesa Arts Center.

Location Info


Arizona State Fairgrounds

1826 W. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Central Phoenix


See an art car slideshow.

Phoenix Cars Swap Meet
5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 6 and 7, Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 W. McDowell Rd., www.phoenixcarswapmeet.com. Classic, collectible, and art-inspired cars and trucks for show and sale (along with 1,500 booths of hard-to-find car parts and accessories).

Classic Car Auction at Scottsdale International Auto Museum
January 13, 14, and 15, 9119 E. Indian Bend Rd., www.scottsdaleinternationalautomuseum.com. Place a bid (or drool over) a collection of muscle, exotic, and collector cars.

Street Fair/Car and Bike Show in Casa Grande
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, January 21, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, January 22. www.cgmainstreet.org/street-fair-and-car-show.html. More than 250 classic, custom, vintage, low rider, street rod, and competition cars.

The Mesa Super Show
3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 31, at Mesa Convention Center, 201 N. Center St., www.mesasupershow.com. One of the year’s largest showcases of classic, custom, and special interest cars and bikes.

When Harrod Blank drives an art car, people notice.

On a weeknight in mid-March at FilmBar in downtown Phoenix, Blank was on hand for a screening of his latest art car documentary, Automorphosis (Blank made Wild Wheels in 1992 and a follow-up called Driving the Dream in 1998).

But he wasn't just there — he was there in a car painted to look like the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, made by California car artist Emily Duffy. The entire car, including the hubcaps, is completely covered in blue, red, white, and yellow squares and rectangles of varying sizes. On top of the car, there's a matching boxy sculpture that resembles a city skyline. Blank was wearing a matching suit and hat.

He was joined that night by Maricopa Mel, Jose Benavides, and Richard Fletcher. They were among several Arizona art car creators Blank met while making his documentaries on the art car movement.

Other Arizona car artists include Tucson resident Diane Bombshelter, who completely covered a car in bottle caps; and Bisbee artists Gretchen Bear (creator of the Hillary Clinton-themed "Hill Car") and Kathleen Pearson, who made a hula hoop-themed Buick complete with plastic pineapples and painted palm trees.

"Bisbee's kind of had its own scene before I was even there," says Blank, who picked Douglas as the location for Art Car World partly for its proximity to the beatnik mining town.

The museum houses 20 art cars, many featured in Automorphosis, including Blank's Camera Van, the Carthedral, and the California Fantasy Van, a 1977 GMC Van covered with 5,000 brass objects, glued on top of $15,000 in coins. Most of the cars are donated by their creators or their families.

Blank purchased and started renovating the building, a former meat-packing plant, in 2005. Because of his traveling and film schedule, progress has been slow. There was a big mess to clean up, he says, including plenty of broken glass. But there's a cement floor in the showroom, and Blank hopes to have the roof done and showroom lighting installed sometime this year.

He hopes people will donate money, too, emphasizing that the museum is non-profit. And once the museum's open, he hopes people will come. Art cars, he says, are a reflection of American folk art, vehicles altered by unique people working to make an expression of themselves.

"They're breaking the mold. It's a rebellious type of art form," he says. "We believe cars should look a certain way. That's part of culture. Art cars are a wake-up call. It's freedom of expression, open-mindedness. It's not just questioning authority, but questioning reality."

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