Alumni support drives art car project

art car
art car
Alumnus Dick McClure and art students pose with the 1982 BMW McClure donated for the art car project.

Art students at University of the Pacific will take their skills out for a spin this winter and design an art car.

The artists will design, prep and paint a 1982 BMW 320, following the same road paved by celebrated artists such as Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein.  Along the way, students will learn about the rich history of the automobile as an art form.

The project is the brainchild of Stockton car collector and former Pacific art student, Dick McClure ’78. He bought and donated the car the students will transform. It was unveiled Homecoming weekend.

“I have been a large fan of the art cars that were created by BMW back in the 1970s and ’80s,” McClure said.

david hockney art car
Art car painted by David Hockney.

BMW’s art car projects were started in the 1970s by French racecar driver and auctioneer Hervé Poulain, who invited artists to use the automobiles as a canvas.  American artist Alexander Calder painted the first art car in 1975, and Poulain raced it in the LeMans endurance races that year. Andy Warhol painted what is perhaps the most famous and certainly the most valuable BMW in 1979.

Last spring McClure shared his love of that car history with Pacific art department chairs Brett DeBoer and Daniel Kasser as well as the university’s art curator, Lisa Cooperman. They said they were looking for projects, and McClure told them about BMW and other famous art cars of the past such as Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche.

“We Googled up some of the BMW stuff, and they were absolutely floored,” McClure said.

They were interested not just in the process but in the idea of a moving piece of art that’s one of a kind.

From there, they decided to create a class called “Shifting Gears” for a select group of students.  Those students will turn the donated BMW into an art piece while learning about the history of art cars, from the art deco cars of the 1930s to the low riders of the ’50s and ’60s and how Hispanic culture, for example, created its own genre of art cars.

Becoming part of the project is a competitive process. Students interested in participating submitted three examples of their best work and a personal statement about why the project interests them.

“We’re looking to see how creative you are,” DeBoer told students during an informational meeting on the project Oct. 27.

Prajakja Prasana ’18, who is double majoring in graphic design and studio art, said she doesn’t know much about cars but is interested in working as part of a team on a big piece.

“I’m pretty excited to work with other students for something that’s not a class project,” she said.

McClure said he has no preconceived notions about how the car should look.

“It will be their own blank canvas and they can create whatever they so choose,” he said.

In January, students will begin working on designs and priming the car so it can be painted. From Feb. 19 to March 7, they will paint the car while it is on display in the Reynolds Art Gallery. During the project, drawings and plans will also be posted in the gallery.

“The process is essential here,” said DeBoer.

The car will be unveiled during a reception March 8. After that, McClure plans to show it at car shows in Northern California, auction it and donate the proceeds to Pacific’s art department, which he is happy to do because of his long attachment to the school.

“What I loved about this school is that were no barriers or boundaries,” he said. “I was a communication arts major but I loved art. I got into the art department and I was welcomed with open arms.”

Learn more about Pacific’s Department of Art and Graphic Design.

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