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Drivers Express Personalities Through Art Cars

(U-WIRE) TUCSON, Ariz. – People truly have relationships with their cars. Some see cars as merely modes of transportation.

Others spend disgusting amounts of money to make their cars supercharged, dropped-down "pimp-mobiles." But there are others, very much in the minority, who see their vehicles as traveling forms of artistic expression. Enter the world of the car artist.

Stephen ("Penny Man") Baker puts a lot of money into his car — literally. In 1990, he began the arduous process of attaching 90,526 pennies to his Ford Econoline Supervan.

The University of Arizona alumnus was featured in "The Guinness Book of World Records" for another project: a "coin-mail" suit he made.

"I used to go to bars, and nobody would notice me," Baker said. "When I started wearing the penny suit, everybody noticed."

Although people create art cars for a variety of reasons, Baker said he does it for the spotlight.

"It’s all for the attention, the desire to be noticed," Baker said. "I was tired of being ignored."

And now, he said, people look at his vehicle rather than Corvettes and Mercedes nearby.

But that attention comes with a high price. "You have to stand there and talk to thousands of people sometimes," he said.

Baker’s advice to newcomers to the world of art cars is to create something noticeable. "Really get their attention. I am the Penny Man, and this is my chariot."

Car Artists Attract Public Attention

Harrod Blank started his first art car, an "especially ugly and embarrassing" 1965 Volkswagen Bug, in his senior year of high school.

It began with a rooster painted on the driver-side door, to signify his affection for the chickens he had raised when he was young. Public response was so favorable that Blank continued to transform the car into an icon of self-expression and individuality.

Today, that humble Volkswagen is known as "Oh My God!" The name derives from the response uttered when someone sees the car for the first time. Adorned with items such as plastic fruit, a globe, bones, Santa, a mailbox and scrawlings of "Oh My God!" in multiple languages, the car is certainly a sight to behold.

Blank’s involvement and influence in the world of art cars is impressive. In addition to "Oh My God!" he created "Camera Van," a van completely covered with assorted cameras. Hidden among them are 10 that are operational, which Blank uses to photograph the public’s reactions to the van.

Blank has also made "Pico De Gallo" — he calls it "a Musical Mariachi Mobile" — in addition to many art car calendars, two books and several films on art cars and other subjects. He has been involved with major art car festivals in Houston, San Francisco and other cities across the nation and has met dozens of other art car artists.

He acknowledges that many artists, such as Baker, create art cars mainly for the attention.

"When you have an art car, it kind of catapults you into this instant sense of celebrity, because everybody knows something about you," Blank said. "It gives you a slight indication of what it’s like to be a celebrity.

"You go to the market to get some food, and everybody wants to talk to you. They look at your car and look at you and wonder, ‘Why?’ It makes life more exciting."

Copyright ©2003 Arizona Wildcat via U-Wire

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