Car art thriving at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

James Raia

Fine art is tradition at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance car show

The artistry of automobiles is among the focal points of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Books to movies to songs, the style, history and craftsmanship of cars is celebrated in different ways.

The Automotive Fine Arts Society (AFAS) will observe the 30th anniversary of its members’ preferred method — automotive-themed fine art — during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

An estimated 250 works of art by about two-dozen artists will be showcased with the more than 200 cars on display. The work of three guest artists and two visiting artists from Japan will also be exhibited.

An invitational-only preview is scheduled at 4 p.m. Saturday night followed by a full-day’s display with the presentation of automobiles from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Fine art is tradition at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Fine cart art is a tradition at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The AFAS was founded in 1984 by six artists who were also automotive enthusiasts. Two years later, the group first presented its artists’ works at the Concours d’Elegance. The AFAS invitation-only membership has steadily expanded and now includes 32 artists from several countries.

In addition to its annual presence for 30 years in Pebble Beach, the AFAS is also a mainstay presenter at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Amelia Island, Fla.

The organization’s goal is to raise the standards of automotive art to a level of acceptance as serious fine from the perspective of collectors and critics.

“The major purpose of the AFAS has been to push the art as fine art, rather than just pictures of cars,” said Jay Koka, a Canadian-based artist and AFAS board member. “I think that’s been accomplished to a pretty large extent, although it’s never really over.”

Koka will have three major new painting and five canvas prints on display. One offering called “Old Propaganda Posters,” showcases the unique mix of Vietnam commercialism with Italian automotive extravagance.

In the 44×60-inch piece, small street corners shops are featured in the background while a Ferrari Gallardo in the centerpiece for foreground.

“This is an amalgam of Saigon and Hanoi that I recently visited with Cathy, my wife,” said Koka, an avid car enthusiast and mechanic who have owned more than 70 cars and motorcycles. “We were walking in the old Chinese quarter when I rounded a corner and saw the sign: ‘Old Propaganda Posters.’ It literally stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew there was a painting here but wondered how to construct it. The idea was formed and crystalized a few minutes later when a Gallardo rounded a nearby corner.

“I love paintings that present great contrasts and perhaps even clashing foregrounds and backgrounds. The old quarter with its cluttered art shops, flower sellers and purveyors of just about everything has a feeling of age, perhaps even pleasantly decayed. Contrast this with the very newest and the very latest, which the Ferrari LaFerrari most certainly represents.”

Koka’s dual passion for automobiles and art has evolved. His early work was car-centric, emphasizing his overall interest in all things automotive. Approaching the 30-year anniversary of his studio, Koka’s art has help develop car art into fine art.

Jim Dietz, a Seattle-based artist who has shown his world at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for several years, will be five new paintings on display, including “At The Gate.” The 30X60-inch oil painting is set in the Damascus period featuring a silver Rolls Royce Ghost parked in a market center in Jerusalem. It shows local merchants working in the market place and a woman talking to a child, while British soldiers carry on a conversation next to the Silver Ghost.

“The society started as a group of artists who saw a field much like western art or maritime art that had possibilities,” said Dietz. “After all, the people who own classic cars have pretty deep pockets. So, those artists were much like I was. They worked in fine arts or commercial arts and saw a possibility for a whole new way of doing things and selling a very, very elite society of collectors.”

“All of them (his paintings) are a similar technique; they’re all like Norman Rockwell paintings,” said Dietz. of his oil paintings. “But the subject matter varies a little on the whim of what I feel like I wanted to do.”

Dietz is also a car enthusiast. He’s particular to one manufacturer and his collection comprises one vehicle, a 1969 Morgan. It’s his second Morgan.

“I don’t know if you call a 1969 Morgan and classic car, but I’ve owned Morgans for 40 years,” said Dietz. “My wife keeps says it’s a puppy dog of a car because everybody from the poorest to the richest who once owned one walked up to you and say, ‘That’s a really pretty car I wish I had one’ or ‘I used to have one.’ It happens literally every time you drive out of the garage. It will go to my son when I am too old to drive it.

“But I find that having more than one older car is a lot like having two mistresses. You never really know which one you want to go to first.”

Dietz’s career progressed from assignments for consumer publications to his current emphasis on story-telling.

“Automotive art is perhaps better described as art for illustration, at least in my case,” he said Dietz. “It defines a scene, a mood, a part of a story, just like you might see in a piece in the Saturday Evening Post or something like that from many years ago. Additionally, it has to have something that is deeper than that story, something the viewer can bring into the painting.

“That’s what I really strive for, something that’s recognizable yet the story is not completely told. It’s a very lightweight entree into fine art. It’s not just something the painter shows you, it’s something you put yourself into. I think when you buy a piece artwork, it’s not something that just looks good on the wall when you first buy it, it’s something that 10 years from now you’re still looking at it and see a new revelation in it.”

(Originally published in the Monterey Herald.)

Article Last Updated: August 12, 2015.

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