The Automotive Absurdism of Pippa Garner – Jalopnik
A couch constructed from a 1950s Chevy by artist Pippa Garner.
Photo: Courtesy JOAN Gallery
Artist Pippa Garner’s convoluted and mesmeric relationship with the automobile started shortly after her birth, as Phillip Garner, in 1942. The first cars she recalls all had very specific facial expressions. “The Oldsmobiles had a frown. The Buicks had a sort of leering grin — like they were stupid or something. I just hated Buicks,” she told me in a wide-ranging conversation. “Fords, which were my favorites, had more of a cheerful, happy, childish look.”
Seven or eight years old, and still enthralled by fantastical notions like the existence of Santa Claus, she began to anthropomorphize these cars. To feel that, like her, they had a heartbeat, emotions. When she saw them wrecked, their faces mangled, she cried.
Surrounded by these seething machines, she attempted to capture their essence with pencil and paper. Fords were too revered to draw, Buicks too reviled. But a group of middling orphans caught her attention. “Back then, there were a number of small car producers, off-brands, that I sort of felt sorry for, and a certain amount of humor toward,” she said. These included Kaiser, Fraser, Hudson and Studebaker. “They were like pets, sort of. So I would make these drawings of them doing silly things, making fun of them. That started me to see my sort of sense of the absurdity of the cars.”
This sensibility has pervaded her life, and art, ever since. Pippa has spent her entire artistic career skewering the car, and the consumerist culture that has developed around it. In fact, anything that perverts the stated mission of the automobile — independence, representation, aspiration, utility — Pippa has underscored in her fiendishly hilarious and irreverent body of artwork. Which, she says, includes her own body.
An example of Garner’s back-page column from Car and Driver Magazine
Photo: Courtesy Pippa Garner and STARS Los Angeles
This career began when she was a student at Art Center College in Southern California, a premier program for automotive designers, in the late ‘50s. Having moved from Detroit, where her father worked in automotive advertising and the car was revered, she was struck by Angelenos’ individuated and offbeat treatment of their cars, much of it trickling down from hot-rod and custom-car culture.
She spotted a Cadillac that someone had hacksawed into a pickup. A front-yard Catholic altar made entirely of hubcaps. A snapped radio aerial replaced with an elaborate coat hanger sculpture, a broken taillight fixed with a scrap of red cloth, a crushed grille repaired with a luggage rack. She began riding her bike around the city, photographing this bizarre cult that both venerated and denigrated the automobile, but was entirely dependent upon …….