When big time New York ad exec, filmmaker, and artist Lou Carvell was a boy, he was fascinated with cars. He’d sneak down to the dealer’s showroom at night and peer through the windows at the new models. “As long as I can remember, I was attracted to automobiles. It wasn’t the speed or mechanical specs; I could barely change a tire, much less the oil. I was beginning to appreciate and understand their artistic form” he explains.
Carvell has spent years roaming junkyards and collecting the superbly designed parts from classic auto models -- brake lights, gauges, vents, or hood ornaments – and placing them in a variety of both urban and natural environments. These fantastic photo-art creations have been featured in galleries and museums around the world.
In 2020, Carvell and director Johannes Kroemer released a mini-documentary called “When Cars Were Art,” a gorgeously filmed ode to the beauty of classic American cars. In the 2.:42-minute film, Carvell shares his passion for the cars of the 1950s and explains why he believes they are works of art. The film won the 2021 Best Shorts Competition Award of Excellence.
Carvell’s personal collection consists of 12 classic cars (and counting)!
Enjoy watching this stunning visual treat!
Q&A with Lou Carvell
What was the very first car you owned?
[Laughs] A rusted four-door, two-toned blue ’49 Chevy that I bought for a grand
total of $35.
What do think is the perfectly designed classic American car model?
I would have to say the 1955-1959 Chevrolet models are considered the quintessential automobile styles. With cars like that, every individual design detail came together perfectly to make one of the finest looking cars. But how you answer that question I think has a lot to do with when you grew up. I liked all the cool new General Motors models when I was a kid, but as an adult, I’ve also come to really appreciate the classic beauty of those space age inspired DeSotos with the big fins and those stunning streamlined designs.
How do you feel about the Edsel?
Well, for all the research and money Ford sunk into it, it never really took off. Probably a combination of being the wrong car design at the wrong time. However, the convertible model is actually pretty nice.
Would you ever want to try your hand at designing a car?
I drew cars constantly as a kid! Not sure if I am qualified to design a real car but I know what I like!
I read somewhere that you and your father built soap box derby race cars when you were growing up.
Oh yeah. My dad also loved cars. He and I designed soap box racers that looked like real Indy cars. We also designed a bicycle with real fins. And I had one of the first go-carts made from a lawn mower engine in Freeport, Long Island, where we lived.
What kind of reactions do you get from people when you drive around in some of the classic cars you own?
These 1950s classic cars really connect with people. When I’m driving in one of them down the Long Island Expressway and come up behind a car with kids inside, they see me in it and they start waving like crazy! Kids instinctively know a car like that is a marvelous creation even if they've never seen one before. Adults too. Even people who are not car aficionados will come up to me in a parking lot or wherever and start talking about design.
Where did the idea for your Reincarnation art series come from?
This is where I combine my love of cars with art. The individual design elements on classic cars have always fascinated me – taillights, dashboards, hood ornaments. I started taking these close-up photos of the ones that really stood out and then superimposing them into different urban and natural landscapes. Taking them out of context like that really turns them into these striking otherworldly compositions.
Photos: Lou Carvell/WhenCarsWereArt.com
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