Art cars: the best automotive artworks

Artists have been using cars as canvases for many years. Here we look back at some of our favourite creations

Jeff Koons’ interpretation of the BMW 8 Series has taken the art world by storm. But the 8 X Jeff Koons isn’t the first BMW he’s used as a canvas. In 2010, he painted an M3 GT2 for the Le Mans 24 Hours race, when it was the latest in BMW’s ‘Art Car’ series, which dates back to 1975.

All 19 cars have been unique, but the 8 X Jeff Koons is the first BMW Art Car to be offered for sale. Each of the limited run of 99 cars has Koons’ signature on its cup-holder and comes with a certificate of authenticity.

  • BMW Art Cars come to London

The original is about to set off on a world tour, including a fleeting appearance at this year’s Goodwood Festival Of Speed. But, if you’ve caught the art bug, then come and join us for our own private view of both celebrated and lesser-known rolling artworks down the years.

Sir Peter Blake Bentley – Continental GT 

Britain’s Pop art legend applied his mind to a Bentley Continental GT V8 S Convertible in 2016 and relished working with the craftsmen at the Mulliner division. His signature was not just on the dashboard, but also on the headrests, which were clad in different-coloured leather. 

Externally there were echoes of Blake’s own iconic painted metal panels in the red St James heart across the yellow bonnet, the prevailing St Luke’s blue (created to honour a hospice in Cheshire), the British Racing green lower panels and a fuchsia-pink radiator shell. 

Andy Warhol – BMW M1

The high priest of the New York New Wave movement, Warhol was responsible for the fourth BMW Art Car when, in 1979, he loaded a lightweight M1 racing car with 6kg of paint, apparently applied in a 28-minute burst that many artists would regard as barely enough for a rough sketch. 

“I attempted to show speed as a visual image,” he said. “When an automobile is really traveling fast, all the lines and colours are transformed into a blur.” 

David Hockney – BMW 850 CSi 

BMW was desperate to get Hockney to join its Art Car canon, but had to wait until 1995. This was number 14 in the series and the 850 CSi GT was used as a base. 

Hockney wanted people to see through the metal, so the car’s body was covered in a depiction of its internal energies. The car was unveiled at the Royal Academy and was central to the Art Cars’ appearance as a pop-up exhibition in a London multi-storey car park in 2012. 

Gabriel Orozco – Citroen DS 

This piece by Mexican artist Orozco is called La DS. He created it originally in 1993 with a bluetinged silver finish, producing a near-duplicate 20 years later in metallic red, titled Cormaline. 

It’s easy to see it as a radically narrowed Citroen DS with a single seat and central driving position, and the way Orozco drew the shark-like contours into a frontal point almost hurts the eyes. There’s no engine and the ‘car’ doesn’t work, but the artist deformed the car for a “distorted perspective” that looks normal from the side, but is visually amiss head-on, forcing the onlooker to confront the useless ‘impotence’ of an illusory status symbol. 

Romero Britto – Volvo V50 

Brazilian Britto bestowed his Pop-art style of cubism to the new Volvo estate in 2004 for a children’s charity, using bold, vivid colours and heavy outlines to echo Volvo’s ‘For Life’ slogan. A little later, he also painted an Audi RS 4 quattro. 

Louise Dear – Alfa Romeo MiTo 

Alfa Romeo commissioned Dear to paint a MiTo in 2011, and she didn’t need to look far for inspiration for the piece, Because I Can, and its explosive flamboyance – her 17-yearold daughter provided all the rebelliousness she needed. The paint was layered on to combine the floral theme – including Alfa’s cloverleaf – with “positive attitude” colours. 

Josh Stika – Vauxhall Adam 

British graffiti artist Stika used a wall on Sclater Street in London’s edgy Shoreditch district to set his interpretation of the Vauxhall Adam Rocks Air against in 2015. The optical illusion of Every One’s An Original merged car and brickwork. 

“[In] East London,” he said, “the walls are covered with fascinating works by amazing artists from all over the globe. I love the healthy competition this has created.” 

BEV – Buick Electra 

The 1960s London collective of artists Douglas Binder, Dudley Edwards and their mentor-manager David Vaughan – known as BEV – never thought they could persuade a client to paint their car in the psychedelic style they used for buildings and furniture. So they bought a 1960 Buick Electra and turned it into the most eyecatching convertible in town. 

Alexander Calder – BMW 3.0 CSL 

The ‘Batmobile’ is the first of BMW’s Art Cars and is based on the 3.0 CSL campaigned at Le Mans by racing driver and art connoisseur Hervé Poulain. Teaming up with BMW Motorsport founder Jochen Neerpasch, they asked the American Alexander Calder to run riot all over it, starting a BMW tradition that lasts to this day.

Steve Weaver – Rolls-Royce Phantom V

Exactly where John Lennon sought inspiration for the artistic transformation of his Rolls may never be entirely clear. He bought the car brand new in a traditional black in 1965 and had the interior gutted to accommodate a double bed, TV, fridge, telephone and custom-built hi-fi. 

But then in 1967 he became consumed with changing the car’s image, and found a company near his Surrey mansion to do the work. Either this firm or Lennon then engaged local artist Steve Weaver to decorate the car. The predominant yellow colour seemed to chime with the release of the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and Weaver’s decoration, often wrongly described as psychedelic, was inspired by traditional Romany caravans and fairgrounds, with the owner’s Libra star sign on the roof. 

Damien Hirst – Audi A1

Spin painting is a technique where an object is revolved as paint is applied, either sparingly through a nozzle or hurled in exuberance. It’s a way of working that appealed to Damien Hirst, and in 2010 he used the method to produce an extraordinary outer coating for an Audi A1. 

You can only marvel at the size of turntable called for in Hirst’s Gloucestershire studio as the car was paint-bombed by the one-time enfant terrible of the ‘Young British Artists’ movement, as well as the painstaking masking that preceded his work. The contrast with the sober greys, silvers and whites normally associated with Audi was shocking. 

The work was created for Sir Elton’s John’s White Tie & Tiara Ball, where it headed the charity auction. It sold for £350,000, which included a matching, 6ft-diameter Hirst canvas.

Dave Richards – Porsche 356

Richards was a roadie for rock goddess Janis Joplin, and when she found out he was an artist, she gave him free rein and $500 (£400) to use her 1964 Porsche 356 SC as a blank canvas. He named his piece The History Of The Universe and in 2016 it sold for $1.75million (£1.4m) at auction.

Ant Farm – Cadillac 

In 1974 a San Francisco collective of artists called Ant Farm created an open-air sculptural tribute to Detroit’s finest. In the Texas wilderness, they half-buried a row of 10 Cadillacs bonnet-first, ranging chronologically from 1949 to 1963. The installation is still there, but it has changed as visitors have smashed windows, added graffiti, and stolen anything that could be removed. 

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