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Cool new color wheels

In an outreach art project at the Petersen, a car is the canvas.

May 22, 2003|Leslee Komaiko | Special to The Times

Crayons and construction paper are so passe, at least when compared with expressing yourself with paint on the hood or fender of a car. Kids, parents and anyone else interested in a little automotive perpetuity are invited to do just that this weekend at the Petersen Automotive Museum, where they'll convert an adorable 1966 Trabant into a piece of art.

The community outreach program, a first for the Petersen, is a collaborative project between the museum and artist Keith De Wine, 31, in conjunction with "Wild Wheels: Art for the Road," a highly entertaining exhibit featuring more than a dozen "art cars" that runs through Memorial Day.

De Wine's odyssey fusing cars and art goes back 16 years, to when his pickup truck was stolen and his aunt gave him a '73 Ford Maverick.

"The car had been slightly damaged," recalls De Wine, a portrait painter with studios in Santa Monica and Santa Ana. "It wasn't in pristine condition. So I was like, why don't I just transform it? All artists are attracted to painting a car. It takes their art and puts it in public places. Suddenly you're taking the artwork to the people and not taking it to museums."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 24, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Artist's name and age -- A story in Thursday's Calendar Weekend about a community art project at the Petersen Automotive Museum misspelled the first name of artist Skeith De Wine as Keith. Also, De Wine is 33, not 31.

At the time, De Wine was living in Irvine. He parked the car in his driveway and "just started painting. I wanted something completely spontaneous."

He painted ants on the roof to represent "people going back and forth, stuck in a rut," and the Archangel Raphael, "the patron saint of good eyesight and good travels," on the hood. He added polka dots and stripes.

Neighbors weren't thrilled.

"They were very nervous that there was going to be this painted car on the street that didn't fit in with the neighborhood and that it would make property values drop," he says.

When De Wine moved to Newport Beach, things didn't get any better.

"There was so much resentment toward me," he says. "One of the neighbors said, 'Don't you dare park that in front of my house.' "

Then a local paper ran an article about artist David Hockney painting a BMW.

"The same neighbor came over and said, 'Now I understand. This is amazing.' "

For five years, the Maverick was De Wine's sole means of transportation. "I turned the streets into anarchy when I drove," he says. "One time I was at a stop sign, and 20 girls came running out of a church. They dove on top of it. They were screaming at a girlfriend to get a picture."

The Newport Beach police paid special attention to his wheels as well, De Wine says. "I was pulled over so many times," he says. "They must have thought I was a druggie or in the Grateful Dead."

After it had a series of mechanical problems, De Wine retired the car he had nicknamed Betty. For nearly a decade it sat in his yard, rusting.

Earlier this year, De Wine spent a good month getting it in shape to travel. Now Betty sits in the Petersen museum's parking lot, just outside the "Wild Wheels" exhibit on the second floor.

The Trabant is parked right next to it. Already the popular German compact is covered with smiling stars and unidentifiable animals -- cats or dogs or maybe bunnies? -- the work of children who have visited in recent weeks. There are signatures everywhere.

"All the kids wanted to write their names on the car," says De Wine. "I guess they're territorial.... A lot of parents have said, 'Don't go home and paint on our car.' I've heard that seven to 10 times."

This weekend, while community members paint and apply beads and plastic toys and magazine cutouts to the Trabant, De Wine will work on his automotive canvas, in some places freshening up old images and in others starting anew. Both vehicles will become part of the Petersen's permanent collection.

He's not concerned about taking Betty off the streets forever.

"For five years it served its purpose," he says, "to get a reaction out of people and to make them think about their environment."


Community art car

Where: Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

When: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Cost: Included with museum admission: $10, adults; $5, seniors and students with ID; $3, children 5-12; younger than 5, free.

Info: (323) 930-CARS, or visit

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