Imagine a canvas nearly as large as a football field. On it bold, swirling shapes in primary colors like red, yellow and blue. As the eye uncovers the rhythm of the lines, curves, circles and color splotches, something else is revealed: these forms must have been created by tire treads! A work of art like no other, created by an artist like no other – the new BMW Z4 Roadster.
Over the years BMW has offered great contemporary artists the chance to express themselves on the surfaces of a variety of the marque´s sports cars. However, the art performance created by the young South-African Robin Rhode daringly moves beyond the concept behind the BMW Art Car Collection. Here the car is no longer just a stunning model, but itself executing artist. “This work is an expression of painting in action – my hope is to communicate the power and thrill inherent in the creation of art”, says Rhode. “For me, the use of an untraditional paintbrush like a high performance car is a great way to investigate the relationship between emotion, technology and industrial creativity.” The development of the picture, this process of formation itself is as important as the completed oeuvre. For this reason the Z4 performance is suggestively titled “An Expression of Joy”.
The powerful and vibrant images created by the treads on the huge canvas appear dynamic and spontaneous, as if created out of the whim of the moment. Yet each movement had been painstakingly planned to the last detail and was the result of an immense technical effort. Unlike the legendary “action paintings” created by Jackson Pollock nothing was left to chance. As an artist working at the cutting edge of performing and fine arts, Robin Rhode is an experienced planner and capable of organizing and directing a large technical staff, but with “An Expression of Joy” even he broke new ground. This in every respect extraordinary work of art that was to emerge in the huge Downey Studios of Los Angeles offered another equally challenging aspect. During the creation of the painting, prize-winning young director Jake Scott intended to film the complete performance for the TV campaign accompanying the new Z4 Roadster´s launch in 2009.
But how was the palette of colors actually applied to the tires? How was the BMW Z4 harnessed to Robin Rhode´s specific concept? And how was Jake Scott able to transform this dynamic act of creation into an equally fascinating film? These questions reflect how many demanding aspects needed to be dealt with in order to create a performance blending high tech and artistic vision. Obviously, in the beginning was an idea. The idea was to present the innovative next generation of the BMW Z4 in a totally unusual location. “One source of inspiration was the seminal work of Gerhard Richter´s series of paintings ‘Red, Yellow, Blue’ made in 1973 for the company headquarters in Munich, Germany”, Rhode explains. Another reference point were the experimental optic animations from the 1920´s and German Expressionist Film. “The tracks left by the tires combine the two-dimensional plane of the picture with the three-dimensional space of the actual driving experience.”
The artist began by sketches, using black finger paints on paper to draw an outline of the general shapes and rhythms. Then Robin Rhode created the visual equivalent of a storyboard with the exact details of each driving sequence and the specific color used. Of course, the driver received a copy of the storyboard that he was able to prop up in the cockpit. Since it was nearly impossible to follow the development of the emerging tracks, given the sheer size of the pictoral dimensions, Rhode also furnished a miniature of “An Expression of Joy” complete with two models of the car in order to simulate driving maneuvers in advance of the actual “paint drive”.
The art performance was a challenge for the driver as well as driving the MINI for the movie “Italian Job”. Accustomed to taking high performance cars to their limit on test tracks, here he needed to follow the exacting choreography established by Rhode. Which meant executing the same moves back and forth several times if the artist wasn´t satisfied by the specific color intensity, and yet keeping the tracks of the treads perfectly aligned each time. Each of the colors was individually applied through remote-controlled nozzles mounted near the axles of the roadster. To avoid an accidental mix of the colors due to residue in the treads, new sets of tires were constantly being rolled in and carefully exchanged, a feat of logistics in itself. From time to time a sock-clad Robin Rhode literally stepped into the picture to pour on more color, where necessary adding generous drips. An alluring aspect accidentally created by this motorized paint brush were the sprays and splotches of color highlighting the wheel casings of the Z4, resulting in visual traces and echoes of the dynamics of the composition. The monumental canvas itself was composed of individual segments that had been attached together to create a surface measuring 100´ by 200´ and thus allowing the driving and painting process to be sequenced in quadrants. This solution also benefits all future storing and moving of the artwork. Segments of the spectacular giant picture will be on the road in 2009, first to be shown at the Detroit Motor Show.
Robin Rhode and his team executed the project in 12 hours. That was also the time frame essentially allotted to director Jake Scott and his crew in which to shoot the Z4´s chromatic driving movements. The challenge was that each segment of his film for the BMW campaign needed to be “just right” the first time around. The usual number of takes just would not possible for this kind of recording. Scott, who is just wrapping up his first feature-length film, has won numerous prizes for music videos and commercials. The cinematographer was able to draw on his experience documenting rock concerts in order to deal with the singular character of this particular live performance. The dynamic undertaking of a car painting was captured with 45 simultaneous camera angles. So, while Robin Rhode was watching the color choreography unfurl, Jake Scott kept a critical eye on all the many screens monitoring the camera movements. “It is always a gift for a filmmaker to watch an artist of any discipline work”, Scott recounts. “It is creation at its core and I have been privileged to observe musicians, actors and now a significant, young artist. I am excited to showcase the rarely seen link between art and technology in action.”
The huge space of the studio and the giant dimensions of the lowered tub in which the canvas had been spread out, offered exciting vantage points for the placement of the cameras. At the same time it also meant coordinating two highly complex and diverse projects – the actual art performance and the shooting of a TV commercial – down to the last second. But despite this double challenge demanding concentration and precision timing the atmosphere surrounding all the teams involved was relaxed.
Certainly, Dennis Hopper seemed impressed by the easy, professional low-key air of the project. The enigmatic movie star was there on assignment from “Vanity Fair” to take pictures of “An Expression of Joy” as a work of art in progress. The former “Easy Rider” not only shares a passion for wheels, but is considered to be one of the truly serious, important art collectors of Hollywood.
The artist, who was born in 1976 in Cape Town and now lives in Berlin, has made a name for himself in the past few years on account of his distinctive artistic work. His oeuvre centres on performances that have evolved from his experiences as a highschool student growing in the Johannesburg suburbs, supplemented culture (sports, music, and fashion) that he likes to mingle with the process of “making art”. In 2001, Rhode was nominated for South Africa’s FNB Vita Art Prize. He has been included in several group exhibitions, including Dislocation. Image. Identity. South Africa, Centro Cultural de Maria, O’Porto, Portugal (2002); Shelf Life, Gasworks Gallery, London, England (2001); and Juncture, The Granary, Cape Town, and Studio Voltaire, London (2001). His solo exhibitions include Fresh: Robin Rhode at South Africa National Gallery, Cape Town (2000).
The Englishman Jake Scott, born 1965, has been directing commercials and music videos for over 15 years, during which time he has accumulated stellar recognition in his field such as numerous MTV awards, a Grammy Nomination, an Emmy and the Grand Prix at Cannes. His clients include renowned brands like Adidas, American Express, AOL, Coca Cola and JP Morgan. The list of artists he has worked with also reads like a Who´s Who of the music industry: REM, U2, Smashing Pumpkins and George Michaels. Jake Scott who ist the son of famous director Sir Ridley Scott („Alien“, „Blade Runner“, „Gladiator“) has just completed work on his second feature-length film, „Welcome to the Riley´s“ with „Sopranos“ star James Gandolfini.
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