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The Art Car Parade: Enjoying the Ride

Art Car stalwarts employ time, energy and creativity to bring their new creations to life. Oh, and scrap metal comes in handy too.

"People really get a kick out of that."

Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford

"The Char Car"

Jill Johnson's 1984 Chevy Blazer titled L.I.O.N., which stands for "Like it or not," features 12hobby horses she and collaborator Jeff Towns either found at flea markets or got in trade.
Photo By Chris Curry
Jill Johnson's 1984 Chevy Blazer titled L.I.O.N., which stands for "Like it or not," features 12hobby horses she and collaborator Jeff Towns either found at flea markets or got in trade.
David Best's "Milan Car" has teakettles molded into the body with all the lids glued shut except one.
Photo By Chris Curry
David Best's "Milan Car" has teakettles molded into the body with all the lids glued shut except one.

Houston Heights

Some artists have more on their résumé, like Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford, who found fame on television on Comedy Central's BattleBots (2000-2002), in which contestants built remote-controlled, battle-worthy robots, pitting them against one another in an arena, gladiator style. Bradford could also be seen on The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars, where teams built machines from junkyard scrap.

Bradford even got a chance to host a show called Scrap Yard Scavengers in 2005 for The History Channel. In the show Bradford and his team built a six-story guillotine that cut a 1987 Camaro in half and a crossbow the size of an 18-wheeler. "We set the bolt on fire and shot it at an air mattress filled with propane," he explained.

Unfortunately, for Bradford, The History Channel didn't pick up the show, but that just brought Houston's own "Scrapdaddy" back to Houston doing his favorite thing: building art cars.

His latest entry, "The Char Car," is named after his six-month-old daughter Charlotte.

Check out more mobile art in our Art Car Parade slideshow.

Jill Johnson

"L.I.O.N."

Houston Heights

When not working at her own salon as a stylist, Jill Johnson, a Heights native, is an avid grease monkey who has welded exhaust systems together, changed her own oil and done to carburetors whatever it is one does to a carburetor.

Johnson and collaborator Jeff Towns began building her art car, a 1982 Chevy Blazer, together in 2008 and now the creation bears the name "L.I.O.N.," which stands for "Like it or not."

"L.I.O.N." doesn't blend in well with Houston's concrete jungle, but that's not what art cars are supposed to do. The most distinctive feature the transformed Blazer has is the 12 red hobby horses that flow from the bed, where the top has been removed, and spill over on top of the cab.

The truck started out as red and white, but Johnson knew she had to change her color palette, saying it made her car look like rolling Christmas and her horses like reindeer. She thought about going with red and purple, but that resembled the Red Hat Society. Red and blue was too patriotic for the statement she was trying to make. But red and orange proved to fit just right, as those colors together pissed off the right amount of people and yet brought them right back together to fawn over her art car entry.

"I'd rather be the freak show," Johnson said. "Most people don't like orange, but I love it."

Johnson and Towns acquired most of the hobby horses from flea markets, and even one from Houston's own Flower Man, the tie-dye-wearing bicyclist who's famous for giving out flowers as well as collecting objects of yesteryear. "Jeff Towns helped Flower Man out after Hurricane Ike and he paid him with a hobby horse," says Johnson.

Johnson's car is a "happy memorial" to Towns who shot himself in front of her in 2009. Although the car is red and orange, there's one white stripe down the middle. It's a call out to Towns.

David Best

"Milan Car"

Petaluma, California

David Best's "Milan Car" started out as a 1977 Cadillac El Dorado, but is now decorated with ceramics, glass, chunks of mirror and a horse mural on the driver's side door. The car has a number of tea kettles molded into the body with all the lids glued shut. "All except for one," says Jim Hatchet who works at the Art Car Museum. "We use that one to put all the pieces that fall off over the years."

Best, who is an accomplished artist, comes to the parade every year. Now, residing in Petaluma, California, the 68 year old works on art projects all over the world, including making temples to be set ablaze for the week-long annual Burning Man festival in the northern Nevada desert. Best has a long resume of art projects but he has special ties to the art car movement in Houston, where he designed the outside of the Art Car Museum.

Randy Blair

"A Little Bit of Nonsense"

Katy, TX

For many of the artists, the art car parade isn't just one day out of the year. Randy Blair's car "A Little Bit of Nonsense" was his daily driver. Thousands of objects cling to the body of the car making his 2007 Toyota Yaris look like a magnet that is attracted to toys found in a McDonald's Happy Meal.

Blair, of Katy, loves taking onlookers on a tour of his car and showing them different points of interest. "If you have a Mini Cooper, two Supermen and a Stormtrooper..." He says as he points to a Hot Wheels Mini Cooper glued on top of two busts of Superman, which in turn is glued to an Imperial Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars, "...you get a mini-cooper, double, super trooper."

Blair can rattle off three other quick riddles hidden within his vehicle, each with a Star Wars theme, but his favorite objects are the ones given to him by friends and loved ones.

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