In Motion


Art is one of those things that I have never been particularly good at. My logic is pretty direct. I always approached art with an end result; a picture in my mind of how something should look. And if I did not have an idea of what I was trying to create I did not know where to begin. There are many directs and I would struggle to start for fear of messing up the blank canvas in front of me. Eventhough art has not been my forte, I can appreciate it.

I can enjoy a piece of work for what it is and try to interpret the meaning. With that said, one of my favorite types is art is artistry done on cars. I am fascinated by those willing to experiment on their vehicle and be in a moving canvas that turns heads and makes people stop and point on street corners. To be clear, I am not describing The Mystery Machine van from Scooby Doo, rather a unique piece of work.

For a bit of history, the idea of the BMW Art Car Project started more than 30 years ago when the French race car driver Hervé Poulain wanted to invite American artist Alexander Calder to express his talent on his BMW racing car. Since then, other talented artists like Stella, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg followed the example of Calder and designed sixteen BMW Art Cars, based on both racing and regular production vehicles. Following are some famous BMW art cars done by influential artists of the time and a few modern cars that should be categorized in the same class. These moving masterpieces (some more that others) have different purposes, and as all art, is for the observer to interpret.


Additional photos and details has been added for some of the original art cars, but the original post can be seen here:

BMW Art Cars Collection

Richard Lane | 23 July 2012

If you’re passionate about cars, then it’s likely that at some point in your life you will have seen a wildly painted BMW. Like many, you may have just disregarded it as an atypical exhibition car for whatever event you saw it at. Some of you, however, will have known that the car you saw was part of one of the most unlikely cultural crossovers of modern times – that of BMW’s motorsport division with some of the most preeminent artists of their time.

35 years old this year, the BMW Art Car Collection is currently housed in an NCP car park in east London as part of the London 2012 Festival. It’s an excellent, and unique, opportunity to see the entire collection in one place, and runs until the 4th August. Entry is also free, unlike BMW’s considerable options list for new cars.

Below, in chronological order, is some of the fastest art you’ll ever see.

BMW Art Car 3.0 CSL, Alexander Calder, 1975

Comissioned by Hervé Poulain, the original BMW Art Car is arguably the most striking. The aim was to add “artistic beauty to an already perfect object such as a racing car”. A master of mobile kinetic art, Calder started by painting a 1:5 scale model CSL in primary colours that swept across the body before applying his design to the real thing, ready for Le Mans.

First,Calder mocked up a design by hand painting a model before starting on the real CSL.
The illustrator with his masterpiece completed.
The car racing at Le Mans.

BMW Art Car 3.0 CSL, Frank Stella, 1976

“My design is like a blueprint transferred onto the body” – Frank Stella

Frank Stella not only converts his ideas into various media with dramatic diversity – he is also a passionate motor racing fan. For this reason he was all the more determined to succeed as he set about the task of individually decorating a BMW coupe back in 1976.

While working on his draft version, Stella dissociated himself from his usual random style of a panting and sought inspiration from the car’s technical aura. The result: a black and white square grid with an evenness and precision reminiscent of oversized graph paper. Within this grid, pattern-like, dotted lines run across the bodywork, suggesting that Stella may have wished to cut out the car and reassemble it in a new shape.

Consisting of tiny boxes grouped into 10×10 squares, Stella’s literally graphic CSL is a visual tour de force. It’s the thicker, seemingly unruly lines that set this design off, however, and according to Stella, keep the car together as a whole. These thicker, curved lines aim to resemble the templates used by engineers for technical drawings before computers became widespread.

The grid pattern – a feature of both Stella’s earlier and later creative periods – is often used by him as a kind of stage upon which a painted drama takes place. By way of contrast, the paintwork he created especially for the Le Mans race is not a stage, but the action itself. However, Stella was against any over-interpretation of his work. His own assessment was, if anything, reserved: “The resulting colored pattern should be regarded as agreeable decoration.”

Stella’s coupe took part in the 1976 24-hour race at Le Mans, but was not among the top finishers. After its debut, the car was entered for another race, this time for a Manufacturer’s World Championship event in Dijon, France. It was to be driven by Ronnie Peterson, a racing driver of international repute, and one of Stella’s friends. Peterson, however, was involved in a fatal accident during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1978. In memory of his friend, Stella produced a series of paintings entitled “The Polar Co-ordinates for Ronnie Peterson.”

BMW Art Car 320 Group 5, Roy Lichtenstein, 1977

“I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction the road showing the car where to go” – Roy Lichtenstein

Lichtenstein gave the 320i Racing a Pop Art makeover, coalescing comic strip with slickness; the broad and sweeping painted lines represent the road and passing scenery along which the car is being driven. The car is an abstract analytical consideration of the external aerodynamic experiences of the vehicle, and the immaculate finish is attributed to varnishing expert Walter Mauer and BMW designer Wolfgang Seehaus.

When Lichtenstein was drafting his Art Car, he spent a long time thinking about all the things that happen to a car. The result of this critical examination of the car is an amazing blend of aerodynamic qualities on the one hand and artistic skill on the other.

Taking a closer look, the car’s design casts a picture of passing scenery in which both the car and its movement are one single entity. The harmony achieved between predetermined aerodynamic features and free composition is pure Lichtenstein. It is an expression of his artistic credo: art must be an element of everyday life – its themes and inspiration must come from the lives of ordinary people.

And although Lichtenstein’s comic art was already a thing of the past by then, his Art Car is clearly influenced by it: the long-drawn colored strips act as “speedlines” – a feature used in comics to suggest speed. Even the oversized dots used by Lichtenstein, the “Benday dots”, are reminiscent of his famous comic-strip pictures.

In 1977 Roy Lichtenstein turned a BMW 320i into a piece of his art that was driven by Poulain and Mignot at Le Mans 24-hour race and finished 9th overall and first in class.


BMW Art Car M1 Group 4, Andy Warhol, 1979

The fourth BMW Art Car was created in 1977 by the Pop Art legend Andy Warhol who, unlike the previous artists, worked directly on the full-scale vehicle and painted the car himself.

Arguably the most famous Art Car of all, Warhol’s M1 was alledgedly completely in just 28 minutes. His third attempt at designing an Art Car (BMW disapproved of the first two), Warhol used his fingers to paint and instill a vivid depiction of speed into the car. Consequentally, the colours blur to great effect when the car is travelling at high speed. BMW rate this car as the most expensive car to bear the firm’s roundel.

For Andy Warhol to paint an automobile seems natural. His studio was known as a factory and his greatest fame came from portraying Campbell’s Soup cans.

All previous Art Car artists created their designs on 1:5 scale models, called maquettes, and had technicians reproduce their designs on the real cars. Warhol insisted on painting the real M1 himself.

Warhol explained the sweeping strokes of his car, “I tried to portray speed pictorially. If a car is moving really quickly, all the lines and colors are blurred.”

The car raced only once, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979, driven by Manfred Winkelhock (Germany) and the Frenchmen Hervé Poulain and Marcel Mignot. It placed sixth overall and second in class. When asked if he was pleased with the end result, he replied, “I love the car; it’s better than the work of art itself.”

BMW Art Car 635 CSI, Ernst Fuchs, 1982

This car represents two firsts: This was the first Art Car to be created using a serial production BMW and the first Art Car to be enhanced by a European artist, namely by the Vienna art professor, Ernst Fuchs. For the “Art as illustration – illustration as art” exhibition Fuchs was extremely creative in decorating the bodywork of the BMW 635CSi. Ultimately the bodywork served as a screen upon which he was able to project his imagination.

For many, His 635CSi ,for many, is the most vivid of all the art cars. Fuchs described his work thus:

“When painting this car I was able to express a wide range of experiences, fears, desires and invocations, as well as aesthetic, artistic freedom. A rabbit can be seen running across the motorway at night and leaping over a burning car – a primal fear and a daring dream of defeating the dimensions within which we live. It tells me which colors to choose. I read its lines, its shape and I can hear its call to speed. I see this beautiful rabbit jump through the flames of love – defeating fear itself…”

“In painting the BMW 635 CSi, I gave expression to various experiences, fears, desires and explorations, but also to free aesthetic artistic creativity. I call this car ‘Firefox on Harehunt.’ It represents a hare racing across a motorway at night and leaping over a burning car – the primeval fear and bold dream of surmounting a dimension in which we live. It tells me its colors, I read them in its lines and shape, I hear its speedy call and can already see the handsome hare leaping through the flames of love – driving away fears.

Let me describe a dream I had when coming round from a general anesthetic at the age of five: a flash of lightning falling near a car driving through storm. And then – the sensation of speed while rushing along. This desire to transcend time and space – all these and many other sensations guided me while painting the BMW Coupe.”

BMW Art Car 635 CSi, Robert Rauschenberg, 1986

“Taking the first step was extremely dificult. It was like being in a room with a beautiful virgin” – Robert Rauschenburg

The sixth artist to create an art car for BMW, Rauschenburg took the art car to a new dimension by the use of photographic transfers. An image of an Ingres painting can be seen on the right-hand side of the bodywork and the left-hand side features Bronzino’s work. Rauschenberg’s own photographs of Everglades swamp grass adorn the bonnet and the hubcaps feature images of ancient decorative plates.

BMW Art Car M3 Group A Race Version, Michael Jagmara Nelson, 1989

“The car is a landscpe, like you’d see from a plane – I included water, the kangaroo and the opossum” – Michael Jagamara Nelson

Australian artist Michael Jagamara Nelson depicts an aerial landscape of his native country in a Papunya art style (an ancient Aboriginal ‘dot painting’ technique). The canvas is painted in an earthy palette includes depictions of water and marsupials.

BMW Art Car M3 Group A Race Version, Ken Done, 1989

“I wanted the car to look like it was moving even when stationary” – Ken Done

Nationality seems to be the only thing both Michael Jagamara Nelson and Ken Done share in common. Their different backgrounds are evident in their art; Nelson paints with an ancient aboriginal style, whereas Done embraces a more modern approach, using psychedelic colours to depict abstract representations of his homeland, choosing “speed” and “Australia” as key themes. A colour gradient fading from warmer to cooler colours spans across the length of the car, underlying an abstract motif of parrot-fish to convey the car’s speed.

BMW Art Car 535i, Matazo Kayama, 1990

“I became most aware of the clear lines of the BMW once the car was completely covered with the colourful design” – Matazo Kayama

Elements of traditional Japanese art along with modern airbrush techniques were used to create this 535i. Stylized snow was used to create a glistening body and which is intercepted by a contrasting irregular sagittal streak of deep blue oil paint to represent a wild river, conveying a sense of movement. Using the Japanese ‘Krigane’ (metal cutting) and ‘Arare’ (foil printing) techniques, Kayama applied pieces of silver, gold and aluminium along the river generating a glistening effect from the depths of the water.

BMW Art Car 730i, Cesar Manrique, 1990

When I think of speed, I immediately think of butterflies and dragonflies” – Cesar Manrique

Spaniad César Manrique uses bold colours to energise the BMW 730i, adorning the body with an abstract design of waves, circles and spots that complement the car’s shape. Like most of Manrique’s work, the abstract design of the Art Car preserves an association with nature; a red river sourced from the bonnet’s BMW logo spills into a waterfall across the front of the car, and brightly coloured segments covering the body overlap to create a sense of motion. On the car’s wing mirrors are painted eyes, as if to say “watch where you’re going”, tragically two years after creation of Manrique’s Art Car, the artist was killed in a car accident.

BMW Art Car Z1, A.R. Penck, 1991

“Art on art, art on technology – I was interested in that – especially art on a three dimensional object” – A.R. Penck

An interesting thought is that the Z1’s abnormal existence, as a limited edition roadster with retractable doors, is mirrored by Penck’s undeniable indiviudality. Painted red with thick black imagery, the Z1 certainly comes across as an oddball, but also with gravitas in abundance.

BMW Art Car 525i, Esther Mahlangu, 1991

“The patterns I used in the BMW design bring together our heritage and modernity of the car” – Esther Mahlangu

South African artist Esther Mahlangu’s 525i takes inspiration from her tribal roots as a member of the Ndebele. High in contrast, not only in its colour palette but in its juxtaposition of old art on modern technology, the car’s absence of circles is at odds with its streamlined shape. The result is that the artwork comes across almost as an item of clothing.

BMW Art Car 3 Series Touring Car Prototype, Sandro Chia, 1992

“You can see the beauty of the car and yourself reflected in the surface. It is an interchange of beauty” – Sandro Chia

There are faces on every panel of Italian-born Sandro Chia’s 3 Series Racer. On the receiving the car, Chia believed his challenge was to finish what someone else had started, and the seemingly expressionless faces staring out of the car supposedly allow this Art Car to look back. Like a mirror.

BMW Art Car 850 CSi, David Hockney, 1995

The car has wonderful lines, which I followed. I toyed a little with breaking up the surface without affecting the overall shape” – David Hockney

British legend David Hockney’s efforts to convey an x-ray portrayal of the iconic 1995 850 CSi coupé see the body feature paintings of the inner anatomy of the vehicle. A silhouette of a driver painted on the left door contributes a human element to the design, whereas the rest of the body features more mechanical images and depictions of perspective.

BMW Art Car V12 LMR, Jenny Holzer, 1999

“The intoxication of motorised speed appears to be every bit as strong as sexual fulfilment” – Jenny Holzer

Featuring various panels adorned with thought-provoking comments, provocative artist Jenny Holzer’s all-white V12 LMR includes sentences such as, “Monomania is a prerequisite to success”, and “The unattainable is is invariably attractive”. Our choicest, however, is “Lack of charisma can be fatal”, which is plastered across the rear wing. Too true.

BMW Art M3 GT2, Jeff Koons, 2010

“My design is meant to represent the energy of the BMW M3 GT2” – Jeff Koons

Interpreting modern Pop Art, Koon’s colourful M3 GT2 certainly has a comic element to it, and this is understandable as his inspiration came from racing car design and the visualisation of energy. Given complete freedom (aside from altering the car’s aerodyniamic qualities), Koon’s design was was digitally printed onto vinyl and applied with a double coat of clear lacquer – just in time for 2010’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

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