"Bonny Goon"

Harrod Blank is a product of his environment. He grew up in the Redwood forest of the Bonny Doon mountains, just outside of Santa Cruz, Calif., without the influence of TV and pop culture.
“Growing up, I raised chickens and ran through the forest,” he said.
His family didn’t own a television set, so rather than basing his values on what he saw on TV, he developed them on his own.
When he was 16, he got his first car, a 1965 white Volkswagon Beetle, what he called “probably the most boring car someone could own.”
To differentiate himself and his automobile, Blank painted a rooster on the driver’s side door, and that single act became the catalyst of his long career in art cars.
“I wanted to show people (at his high school) that I didn’t look like they did and I didn’t have the same values they did. I was different,” Blank said.
He was surprised, though, at how much attention the painted rooster got him. The kids at his school began to refer to him as “Rooster Man” or “Chicken Man,” and the notoriety earned him invitations to parties and an identity.
He added objects to the car, including a television, which he shot and mounted to the top. In it he placed symbols of what he saw on TV: A Barbie doll to represent sex, Jell-O to represent commercial advertising.
He worked on the car through high school and college, and he sill has it and adds items to it. And as he constructed his art car, thinking he must be the only person in the world with a car like his, he began to hear snippets of information, stories of other people across the country and their own art cars.

Beginning in 1986, Blank began seeking out and photographing art cars all over the country, and he compiled his findings into a documentary called Wild Wheels, released in 1992, which he promoted by driving his first art car “Oh My God” (named after the response people frequently gave to seeing the car) across the country.

In 1993, Blank had a dream about a car covered in cameras, and he spent that year collecting more than 2,700 cameras, which, in 1994 and 1995, he mounted to a 1972 minivan. Camera Van, in addition to being a piece of art, was also a solution to a problem. Blank wanted to be able to photograph the public’s reactions to his art cars without them being tainted by the presence of a camera.
Nestled in with the thousands of non-working cameras were 10 that were rigged to snap photos at random intervals, thereby capturing the public’s honest, immediate reaction to his creation.
Blank will exhibit the photos produced by the Camera Van and his photographs of art cars in an exhibit at Liggett Studio, 314 S. Kenosha, opening tomorrow at 6pm.
Blank has also produced another film about art cars, called Automorphosis, which the Circle Cinema will show Sunday, May 17 as part of Art Car Weekend. The film and Blank’s book, Art Cars, will be available for purchase during the exhibit and Art Car Weekend. His exhibit at Liggett will hand through May 23.

Blank talked about using automobiles as a medium, saying, “Cars are already a powerful object because of their mobility. They’re seen by a lot of people. I think they reach people similar to radio and TV because of the number of people who see them.”
The art car cult craze is still proliferating, Blank said.
“The whole point is saying, ‘It’s OK to do this to your car.’ A lot of people see a minivan and they think it’s supposed to look like that,” Blank said, pointing to a car parked across the street from Liggett Studio. “But once they do it and see how much joy it brings to themselves and to other people, they realize it’s OK.”