We love our cars -- that's a fact. They're our homes away from home, the canned personification of whatever freedoms we have left to enjoy in these uptight times. But automobiles also reflect popular culture in a seasonal blueprint of design, color schemes and technology that rewrites itself annually. Cars are art, although the majority of what rolls off the assembly line falls squarely into the pedestrian category of commercial art. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Local car/vintage-road-racer fanatic Harry Mathews, however, focuses on the fine art of the car world. A man who lives and breathes cars (he collects and sells vintage roadsters at his Arvada business), Mathews has amassed one of the coolest collections of sports cars in the nation, beginning with a tomato-red 1953 Jaguar XK120 he purchased in 1959. Since then, he's added examples of just about every car we associate with speed -- Porsches, Maseratis, Ferraris, Corvettes, Lotuses. But his greatest love is the sleek McLaren, which careened around the Indianapolis track in the '60s and '70s; it's a rare and celebrated line for which Mathews has become a major preservationist.
Car enthusiasts and art lovers alike will have a chance to view the oversexed McLaren, the Shelby Cobra and other vehicles from the Harry Mathews Car and Fine Art Collection at the Arvada Center's Baby, You Can Drive My Car, a two-part exhibit combining arty cars with car art in the form of hubcap grids and roadside satire provided by local artists Phil Bender and Bill Amundson. With art- and auto buffs mingling in the audience, gallery director Jerry Gilmore hints that the people-watching possibilities alone might be well worth the trip to Arvada.
"You can look at these cars the same way you'd look at a painting," says Gilmore. "When Harry bought these cars, many came in these odd coral colors that nobody wanted at the time. Now they've become collector's items. In terms of color, they can be totally off-the-wall colors: weird banana yellows, baby blue, deep metallic blues. People into cars see them now and they get a kick out of it."
In addition to nine hot-waxed cars, the center will roll out items from Mathews's side interest: automotive- and gas-company memorabilia, especially car-related artworks by top-dog car illustrator Darrell Mayabb and wildman cartoonist C. Cruz. He's also a fanatic of auto-parts installation artist Greg Johnson, a Wichita body-parts guy who builds giant Tiki monsters -- motion-activated, talking sculptures -- out of used fenders.
"It ranges from photo-realism to fantasy," says Gilmore, who believes such works deserve mainstream recognition. "The only thing different about it is the subject matter. These are artists you've never heard of before, but in the car world, they're giants."
Baby, You Can Drive My Car coincides with several other summer events at the Arvada Center: a June 11 celebration of the City of Arvada's 100th anniversary, and the annual Hot Times, Kool Cars event in August, a family festival that includes an outdoor car show in addition to the one going on inside.
"I'm expecting a huge response from the car world," Gilmore says. "But it's also a chance for people interested in fine art to appreciate something they've never seen before."
One thing's for sure: It'll be a gas.