Artist's Statement: The Elements

What does my art car, The Elements, "mean" as a work of art? Well, here are my thoughts about that. But it's a fairly abstract artwork, and the great thing about abstract art is that it allows (and requires) more participation on the part of the viewer than pictorial art does. So if you don't like my interpretation, feel free to substitute your own! (And by the way, if this happens to be the first text you're reading on this web site, don't worry, the rest of the site's contents aren't so grandiose as this page.)


I think most viewers experience my car only as a novelty, rather than an artwork. That's fine with me. Novelty is important: It shakes us loose from the bonds of the everyday. It makes us question the rules. It reminds us that we have more freedom than we think.

Of course, any car with an unusual paint job is a novelty among the world's monotone automobiles. But my car brings an additional surprise: What looks like paint from a distance is revealed to be something slightly fuzzy when seen more closely. Cars aren't supposed to be fuzzy! They're supposed to be smooth, shiny, and reflective.

At this point, most people think Fabric? or, occasionally, Carpet? But if they approach close enough, they get the full effect: Good grief, it's yarn, in individual strands! Now the car has progressed from being a mere "ordinary" novelty to being a shocking novelty. The first shock is simply that anyone would be willing to endure all of the time and tedium that must have been required. What would possess someone to spend so many hours doing such a thing? I suspect most art cars evoke that response.

But for this particular car, there's a second shock that's more relevant to its potential success as a work of art: That's absurd! Yarn can't possibly stand up to the elements. The whole thing will be ruined the first time it rains! Read on...


An art car, by its nature as a worldly vehicle, brings art out into the elements. That thought was the inspiration for my own art car, The Elements. My car's artwork illustrates the elements, and the seemingly precarious place of life and the works of mankind among them.

Ancient philosophers, the forerunners of today's scientists, proposed that everything in the world was composed of some mixture of four elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. For example, they may have explained that an eagle has Fire and Water in its hot, liquid blood, and Air and stony Earth in its hard, hollow bones. And if they could have seen an automobile, they might have described it in terms of the elements: a wheeled structure made of metal mined from the earth, and propelled by a watery liquid carbureted with air and ignited to produce internal combustion.

Renaissance thinkers later expanded on Aristotle's ideas about a fifth element called "Aether". This, they supposed, was a rarefied substance to be found in the space between the stars and planets. The words ethereal and quintessential ("of the fifth essence") derive from this idea.

Of course, that was all quaint proto-science and nothing more. But poets and artists still use the four elements as a metaphor for Nature, and there is a theory among writers that referring to one of the elements produces a strong title, such as Gone With the Wind or Chariots of Fire. I favor the inclusion of the fifth element, Aether, so as to let Nature's domain encompass the whole universe.

Click the above images for larger versions.

Fire is represented on my car by the sun rays on the trunk lid. Water appears on the hood as stylized raindrops rippling in a pool. Air is seen in the meandering lines that flow along the length of the car like wind. Earth is found in the form of real, black river rocks attached along the bottom panels of the car [still in progress, so no photo yet, sorry]. Aether is suggested by the sparse, vaporous white strands on the roof and trunk lid.

The eagle at the center of the trunk lid represents life. Life is important, so the eagle appears at a focal point of the artwork. But he is small in the context of the elements that surround him. The eagle also echoes the Imperial eagle logo on the stock wheel covers and hood ornament, emphasizing that the car itself, a majestic 1967 Imperial, is an intentional part of the artwork rather than merely a substrate.

Mankind is symbolized by the black and white squares along the sides of the car. The angular regularity of the squares and their pattern reminiscent of a chess board suggest intellect, which is humanity's particular mark of distinction among Nature's tenants. But the windy Air above threatens to wear away the angles, and the encroaching Earth below to swallow up what's left. The elements are both our home and our undoing.

Yarn, then, is an appropriate medium. It seems too flimsy for use in mobile outdoor art — worrisomely vulnerable to sun and rain and wind and mud. But in fact, machine-washable, colorfast, shrinkproof, four-ply, acrylic yarn is remarkably durable! And so The Elements is my tribute not only to the elements themselves, but also to all worldly creatures and creations that defiantly and surprisingly survive in the elements' chaotic midst.



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