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Good friend, hotrodder and Chief Curator of the Oakland Museum of California, Phil Linhares, will be hosting an exhibit of ‘art cars’ next month during the museum’s Free First Sundays series. And one of the cars looks strangely familiar: a lowered van in the midst of a full custom treatment. From what we gather, it’s all based on the re-imagination of a ’63 Ford Club Wagon by local artist, Shawn Hibmacronan.

Bitchin. That’s what we say every time we see one of these early-Sixties vans customized and, especially, lowered: Bitchin.

And Shawn totally scored when he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund, apparently, the last thrust of his van project. And it got us to thinking: when you present your custom car project as an important vision of artistic self-expression, you’ll stand a far better chance of funding that crucial last push to the turn-key finale with the help of complete strangers. NEAT.

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We figured Shawn saw the Econoline that came out of Conder Custom for Coby Gewertz called “Van Go” a few years ago and was inspired to do the same thing with the windowed version he’d been driving. After all, their studios are about 30 miles from each other here in NorCal and, y’know: same body style, same lowered stance, same attitude, same artful point-of-view…same overall approach. But, as we watched his Kickstarter video, we realized that maybe we were wrong:

“That was the initial goal: to get this thing as low as possible with the right stance, the right attitude, the right feel that’s so huge in car culture…it needs to look just right. I found that this was very challenging with this make and model and this is why it’s never been done before with one of these things…or at least in the way it should be done properly.”

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Hmmm. Well, actually it has been done before. In the way it should be done properly. But, maybe he’d never seen Conder’s work before. That’s possible: after all, one of our biggest windmills is the fact that those living and working in car culture are too insulated. Too isolated, sometimes. A custom shop can be operating right down the street from an artist’s studio and, while they both approach the world in similar ways, they depend on completely different groups of benefactors for their livelihoods. We think that’s just a damn shame.

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On the other hand, maybe it’s part of the job of a working artist to develop a functioning knowledge of the world he’s about to jump into. Maybe it’s supposed to be part of the creative process to know who’s done what before you. It would make sense to us – after all, we know where the visual cues of our own hot rod came from because we love a certain style of Model T that was built in the mid-Sixties custom car scene in Southern California. We know all those little details and call them out every time we talk about the car, er, art project.

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One thing we do know is that it absolutely is the artist’s job to round up some patronage. And the best way to get that part of the job done is to speak to his constituency in ways that makes sense to the group. The owner of a custom shop will communicate to his customer base in very direct, matt-of-fact, short-and-straight-line-between-Point-A-and-Point-B, no bullshit, no over-the-head-fancy ways. Conversely, an artist will speak to his base in nearly the mirror opposite way:

“As an artist, I am not only fascinated with the material qualities and craft of the this subculture, but furthermore the resulting attitude or “stance” that those gestures communicate. This vehicular tour-de-force, is a tangible method of exploring and existing within that resulting visual language. I want to insert this work into every possible context, from car advertisement to gallery shows, from traditional hot rod shops to concept-rich art schools, the beach scene of California to the gallery scene of NYC, along the back roads of this great nation.”

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What Tim Conder and Shawn Hibmacronan have in common is their art. They’re both artists, working for and in completely different audiences and worlds. If we held a Beer Summit in the back room of the shop here, we’d bet they’d get along with each other pretty well and both learn some shit from each other. We’d bet that Shawn would dig Van Go for the rolling Dutch art gallery it really is and Tim would nerd out on helping Shawn really get that wheel camber figured out on his Club Wagon.

As a work of art, Conder’s custom Econoline simultaneously belongs in a gallery and on the grass. As a custom, Hibmacronan’s Club Wagon will probably belong on the grass and in a gallery, too. Where do these two worlds meet, beyond the comparison we’ve shown here? Will the art world ever recognize Conder Custom as the art studio it really is? Would hotrodding ever see Shawn’s studio as a viable custom shop? What we do know is that these two worlds collide in some wonderful ways, but neither is aware of it.

We’ll see you at the Oakland Museum for the unveiling of Shawn’s WIP and, as hotrodders and art directors, Job #1 is to make sure he doesn’t wear jean shorts to the reception.

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