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Politics, consumerism and the Chevy van

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There is perhaps no better way to explore the urban culture of America than through its vehicles. Dented, dirty and graffiti-plastered delivery trucks are elevated from utility to art in the work of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Kevin Cyr, one of two artists featured in “Temporal Surfaces,” opening at White Walls Gallery in The City on Saturday.

On the surface, Cyr’s fascination with the decrepit vans, run-down corners and crumbling decay of the nation’s cities appears to be a departure from his small-town upbringing.

Until he attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, he says, Cyr lived in Madawaska, a small town on the northern Maine border, where he enjoyed the freedom to roam anywhere, even occasionally hopping a freight train for short rides.

He says, however, “I think I’m naturally drawn to objects that represent blue-collar living.”

Transportation vehicles are symbols of the disappearance of the manufacturing industry and the middle class, as well as rising unemployment in the country, he says.

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“I’ve always thought that making things and fixing things is the most important part of our economy,” Cyr says. “When I come across a beat-up Chevy van, I’m immediately drawn to it because it represents that hard-working American spirit I grew up with.”

Recently, Cyr has moved from realistic paintings of urban vehicles to creating and manipulating vehicles himself. Inspired by
Cormac McCarthy’s novel “The Road,” in which a father and son journey across post-apocalyptic Earth with a shopping cart holding their meager possessions, “Camper Kart” is a functional shelter atop an ordinary shopping cart.

“With all the advances we’ve made, in the end, the most utilitarian vehicle is still the most basic cart,” Cyr says of the piece, for which he won a 2010 West Prize (a recently established $10,000 honor offered to artists creating challenging, innovative work).

“It’s partly a reaction to materialism and excess, but it’s really about human perseverance and self-reliance. It’s comforting to think that I can make a shelter out of a shopping cart, and in a catastrophe, something like ‘Camper Kart’ or the ‘Camper Bike’ could provide a temporary mobile shelter.”

The aforementioned “Camper Bike” is a similarly self-contained shelter that sits on a three-wheel bike. Once a bike messenger in Boston, Cyr says he has had a longtime interest in bicycles and always thought the luxury car culture was “wasteful.”

“Until the auto company bailouts and gas crisis a couple years ago, my vehicle paintings were mostly a comment on consumer issues and preserving the past,” he says. “It’s not until recently that cars have become such a political issue.”

 

IF YOU GO
Temporal Surfaces:
Work by Kevin Cyr and Jessica Hess

Where: When: 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday opening reception; show closes March 27
Contact: (415) 931-1500; www.whitewallssf.com

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