A Moveable Beast

The 50-foot Carmadillo and its zany sculptured friends have lost their lease

For the past seven years, Mark Bradford was never surprised when visitors parked their cars and got out to take a good look at his house. An artist and sculptor, Bradford has transformed his home at 100 Heights Boulevard into an overgrown garden of brass and steel sculptures and kooky art cars. His most recognizable piece might be the shiny, 50-foot armadillo built out of a pickup truck and van, known as Carmadillo.

But in a few months the folk artist is going to have to move -- and somehow carry his enormous amount of art with him. Because even though locals consider Bradford's yard an offbeat treasure, his landlord's insurance company thinks the place is a fire hazard waiting to ignite.

"It doesn't bother me personally, but it bothers my insurance company, and they said they're going to cancel me if I don't get rid of him," says landlord Albert Bowles. He claims the insurance inspector called Bradford's home "a time bomb."

While Bowles initially wanted Bradford and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Winningham, off the property by the end of the year, he's agreed to give them an extra month. But the couple -- and all their stuff -- have to be "completely, absolutely, positively and everlastingly gone by the end of January." Bowles has sold the property to a lawyer who wants to move his firm there from downtown.

Bradford is taking the loss of his lease in stride, but that's not much of a surprise. The laid-back, self-trained artist has created such complicated pieces of art (see "Tension and Release," by Lisa Gray, March 29) that he figures he can handle a complicated move.

"I knew my days were getting numbered," says 36-year-old Bradford, who moved onto the property in May 1994. "The property values [in the area] have tripled." As for how he'll transport his tremendous creations, he says, "I'll rent a forklift, I'll get an 18-wheeler flatbed."

Bradford also says he isn't angry with Bowles, whom he credits as a supportive landlord. After all, it was Bowles who allowed him to keep a 1950s school bus and pile upon pile of scrap metal on the 50- by 150-foot property. And it was Bowles who didn't mind when Bradford built an enormous scorpion named Elba and planted it in front of the porch.

But the loss of his lease could not have come at a more complicated time for the artist. Bradford recently took off for a month to display his art cars in Düsseldorf, Germany, and that won't leave much time for him and Winningham to find a new home that will allow them to keep the artwork nearby. Bradford says he is determined to save everything, and will probably have to find space to store most of it.

"I collect stuff to make my art," says Bradford. "I might keep a piece for six months until I find 'the missing link.' So I got all this stuff in my backyard and I'm like, 'I can't get rid of this, I can't get rid of that.' "

Barbara Hinton, who volunteers with the Orange Show Foundation, has been giving Eyeopener Tours of Houston since 1991. She often takes her curious customers by Bradford's house.

"They love it, there's a big wow factor," says Hinton. "One thing that contributes to that is how monumental it is, how shiny and captivating." Hinton's favorite Bradford creation is the art car titled Mobile Phone, which was constructed out of a pay phone and a very tiny purple car. At the Art Car Parade, Bradford spray- painted himself silver and rode inside the car. The piece now sits in the front yard.

"He is so unassuming and so sweet," says Hinton of Bradford. "I hope he will stay close to us; I don't want him to be in Katy."

Bradford says many in the art car community have volunteered space and help when it comes time for the big move. He also hopes to arrange for some of his pieces to sit in galleries instead of on his front lawn.

"It might be good that I don't live with my work, so I can get away from it," says Bradford, who thinks being so close to his creations induces guilt whenever he's watching TV or taking a nap. "I feel like I should be out there creating," he says.

Wherever Bradford ends up, he says he hopes to get there fast, because he can't stand long gaps between projects. His next design is typical Bradford: He wants to make a 12-foot-tall pregnant woman out of brass and stainless steel.

"I didn't want to do something small," he says.

 
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