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Corpus Christi Lowriders Add Vegas-Style Bling to Houston's Art Car Museum

Artist Irvin Tepper has been photographing art cars for almost 30 years and his images have graced the gallery walls at the Art Car Museum time and time again, including his “Vehicles of Havana” series from 1998 and collaborations with Maurice Roberts. He’s back for another FotoFest, this time capturing the bright colors of the lowriders of Corpus Christi, including that region’s “City Style” car club.

Patriarch Frank “Pancho” Leal established the car club in 1989, back before hydraulics, when he and his friends would use bags of sand to lower the bodies of their cars. His sons have continued with the family’s passion for tricked-out cars with intricately detailed exteriors and plush interiors. In the “Lowriders of Corpus Christi, Texas” exhibit, Tepper has photographed several cars from the Leal Brothers Paint and Body Shop, one of which took home the national prize two years ago in Lowrider Magazine’s Las Vegas Super Show.

Some of the giclée prints focus on just one aspect of these cars, like the angle of the car hood in Milan Car; or a side view of Baby Boy, Jesse Leal, with the interwoven stripes of pink, orange and red; or the close-up shot in Lowrider Engine Detail. Fuzzy dice hang from the rearview mirror in Cha-Cha, Jacob & Cynthia Soliz, and the hydraulic controls fight for center stage in the sparkly blue interior of Rudy Serrano. The interiors of both LB1, Fred Leal and Family Tradition, Frank Leal III look like Vegas-style amusement parks; and Flatline, J.R. Mendoza sparkles with its alligator skin upholstery and a small alligator head mounted near the window’s top.

A couple of Tepper’s art car photographs also are in the exhibit – and the actual cars themselves are on the gallery floor – including Swamp Mutha (with its ducks, snakes, driftwood and collaged panels) and the steel armature of the gargoyle-laden Inside Phantoms (first-place art car in the 2006 Art Car Parade).

The Art Car Museum’s FotoFest 2016 trio of exhibits also includes thoughtful and interactive lenticular photographs by Mark Chen. His “To Inhabit” series depicts cityscapes from Houston, New York and Los Angeles that offer up a different version of the scene depending on where the viewer is standing. In one image of Times Square, pedestrians are replaced by watercraft by a simple shift in perspective. In these works, the artist explores the possibility of catastrophic flooding due to rising sea levels, and suggests that conversion to the more environmentally sustainable wind farms could head off these disasters.

Street photographer Ken Watkins, who has been chronicling Houston’s passersby since 1975, shows several black-and-white photographs from his “Main Street” series. It’s interesting to see the fashion and hairstyles from the ‘70s, and even more fascinating to catch glimpses of now defunct downtown stores that were once so much a part of our day-to-day lives, including Everitt-Buelow, Battelstein’s, Foley’s and Butler’s. His characters aren’t from the ‘burbs; they’re often hardened, with a cigarette in hand, gazing at the photographer with suspicion or languor.

“To Inhabit;” “Lowriders of Corpus Christi, Texas” and “Main Street” continue through May 29 at Art Car Museum, 140 Heights, open Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 713-861-5526, artcarmuseum.com. Free.

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