Chinese performance and graphic artist Liu Bolin is known as the invisible man. He has himself photographed after he’s dressed and painted himself to almost completely blend into the background. Besides any deeper philosophical implications about the state of man in his work, the photographs are visually arresting and wryly clever. Someone at Ford or their ad agency must also be clever because they got an inspired idea: hire Bolin to make the dramatically styled 2013 Ford Fusion stand out in consumers’ minds by painting the Fusion’s competitors into the background. I think it’s a brilliant concept, but then I’ve used the portmanteau Camcordata myself to describe the relatively indistinguishable cars in the midsize sedan market. Making the Fusion’s competitors literally blend into the background effectively gets the message across that the Fusion is different. Do you agree?
Art and commerce have always been inextricably linked. In recent years collectors of fine automotive art have started to appreciate the original commercial art used in advertising, like Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman drew for Pontiac in the 1960s, and there are the famous BMW art cars, but it’s really an old tradition. When the great (and large, too) 1910 Oldsmobile Limited, rolling 42s, was able to beat out the 20th Century Limited train in a race from Albany to New York City, the Oldsmobile company commissioned artist William Harnden Foster to paint what has become known as Setting The Pace. They continued to use it and updated versions (as car models changed) of the painting for over a decade. The company also distributed lithographic copies on canvas known as “oiliographs”. One copy is in the collection of the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library, donated by Oldsmobile. Last year one of those oiliograph prints sold at Bonhams for $1,464 (including premium). That’s more than a lot of actual Oldsmobiles are worth.
William Harnden Foster is still appreciated as an artist. His paintings sell from the mid four to the high five figures. In general, Bolin’s prints are not worth quite as much as Foster’s works, but they do have a ready market and sell for thousands of dollars each. A Liu Bolin commission for something like the Ford ad shoot must cost many times that amount.
So why would Ford take the expense of paying Bolin’s commission to hand paint the other cars and the cost of setting up the photo shoots when it all could have been done digitally (as opposed to manually – but then he’s using his digits when he paints isn’t he?) with some CGI effects? According to Bolin, passion and authenticity.
“My work can be done on the computer without the use of paint, but computers cannot convey emotions. That is something that the artist captures with his paintbrush.”
Working with a famous artist can also give a company a touch of class. Besides, not every automotive and advertising executive wants to hang around jocks. Some have a taste for fine art as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if executives at Ford (or their ad agency) ended up with signed and numbered prints of the finished ad shoots.
Since we’re discussing the intersection where Art Hwy meets Commerce Rd, it should come as no surprise that Ford has also posted a “making of” video of Bolin setting up and painting the installations on YouTube . They also issued a press release.
*Tip O’ the hat to the late, great Stan Freberg.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS