The Art Car Parade: Enjoying the Ride

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Be sure to check out our slideshow from the Art Car Parade.

Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford is busy living up to his moniker at his Heights scrap metal studio. He and helper Rey Aguilar are bringing life to his latest creation.

Using 15-foot radius industrial spools as wheels and scrap metal parts he found at a nearby machine shop, Bradford has welded, bent, compressed and scrapped an oversized rickshaw and a working, free-swinging rickshaw runner together. If all goes according to plan, the 20-foot-tall metal man he constructed will appear to be running the rickshaw, but in reality the contraption is driven by two motorcycle engines, one to power the vehicle and the other used to steer.


Want to see art cars? Check out our slideshow of the 26th Annual Houston Art Car Parade.

Bradford and Aguilar roll the massive metal leviathan in front of the studio and push it down Allen Street for its first test drive, which proves successful.

"I wish I had more time, because now I have to learn to drive it," Bradford said laughing. With an impending deadline fast approaching he still has a lot of hours to put in before he can say "finished."

Since 1988, the 47-year-old metal worker, originally from Baton Rouge, has had an entry for Houston's Art Car Parade and as long as metal yards keep pumping out scrap, Bradford will have the tools he needs to make art cars.

"Like when you were a kid, the more Legos that you would have, the bigger things you could make," said Bradford. "Living in Houston, the fourth largest industrial city, there's all kinds of scrap metal to work with."

Bradford's "The Char Car" will join 269 other entries in the 2013 Art Car Parade Saturday May 11 at 1 p.m. before an expected crowd of 300,000 lining Allen Parkway to see the parade in its 26th year. This year's parade route starts on Allen Parkway and Waugh, travels eastbound, curves around The Heritage Society on Bagby Street, then comes up the other side making its way to Shepherd Drive.

"It's anything on wheels," according to Jonathan Beitler, who does marketing and public relations for The Art Car Show. "Bicycle groups that put flair on their bikes, or a roller skating club or contraptions placed on golf-cart frames."

Add in regular street cars, such as those belonging to California artist David Best, who will have at least two cars in this year's parade. The cars titled "Faith" and "Milan Car" have taken honors in the parade years before, but both will be featured again in this year's parade and can be seen on display at The Art Car Museum in the Heights.

The most distinctive feature about "Faith," which started out as a 1984 Camaro, is the mounted cape buffalo head acting as an oversized hood ornament, coming from where the grill should be. The Camaro part of the car basically serves as a canvas, as the body has been woven seamlessly with a myriad of trinkets from bumper to bumper. He-Man action figures and billiard balls find a way to harmonize on one part of the car, while other objects such as primate skulls, Mardi-Gras beads and key chains with Virgin Marys on them line other areas.

The two art cars, and others like it in the Best collection, have trail blazed for an enclave of emulators from beginner to professional artist alike, but a purity for something raw is sometimes best left to the novice.

The Art Car Parade got started with The Orange Show. "They adopted the theme of building something beautiful with found and recycled material: 'I found this in a scrap yard and I want to bring it to life' or 'it's something I didn't have to pay for,'" says Beitler.

"It's for the untrained artist," says Beitler. "Anyone can do it, but they actually did it."

Bob Wink

"Fried Chicken"

Bellville, TX

Bob Wink decided to dress up as Colonel Sanders and drive a car resembling a drumstick he named "Fried Chicken."

"Six years ago I had someone mention that it was the weekend for the art car parade," says Wink. "I went and sat on the sidelines... really enjoyed all the cars and right away knew that the sidelines of the parade was not the place to be."

Wink immediately started working on an art car, which exists on a go-cart frame. Rather than an avant-garde smorgasbord of crafts glued to the body, Wink went with a theme that he changes every two years. First, an alligator car, then a guitar with himself playing Elvis and driving from inside the sound hole.

But this year, like last year, Wink's Colonel Sanders driving a drumstick isn't meant to just be seen, but heard.

"The car has a sound system and as I'm going down the parade I play the chicken dance and have 300,000 people doing the chicken dance as I go through the parade route," Wink said.

Props are also part of Wink's ensemble. Not only does he don the famous Col. Sanders' white suit, cane and Kentucky bow-tie, he carries with him a bucket of fried chicken and has configured a miniature remote controlled art car to resemble his fried chicken car.

"People really get a kick out of that."

Mark "Scrapdaddy" Bradford

"The Char Car"

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


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.

"At the first art car parade I was at, I met an artist named Bob Wink and that year his car was an alligator and he passed out little alligators," said Blair. "He gave me this one that first year," he said as he held up a little, plastic alligator. "It's been on my car ever since. It has a spot here on the back that's pretty special to me."

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