The beautiful decay of automobiles

I painted these automobiles because they struck me by their fair deterioration. ‘Fair’ in their splendor by means of their original design, but also by their dramatic expression, as were they living creatures at the end of a turbulent life full of accumulated wisdom and experience.  There they are standing now; who knows what they have all been through, what kind of people have been riding these cars and enjoyed the quality and freedom in mobility these vehicles offered them? Some cars obviously are already deceased (just like their original owners), they crumble, fall apart, like fallen soldiers, lonely in the wood. Nonetheless even they still seem to live, their spirits still walk about. They symbolize the notion that also these wrecks of rusty iron have a meaning and grow to a sublime harmony with their natural environment – the wood or other landscape, which normally seems to be a contradiction: an artifact like an automobile which integrates in nature. Others stand, although left behind in the middle of nowhere, still proud, full potency for a revival. They can certainly be restored and look forward for a shiny renewed future within human hands.

But furthermore: watch the development in design, like the 1928 Essex and a 1960 Buick Electra versus the 1959 Chevy El Camino and 1953 Plymouth for instance: doesn’t it also impersonate the development of art, technique, politics and economy?  The Essex and Buick are quietly passing their old days on a huge estate. They indeed were costly cars, only accessible for a bigger purse. The Plymouth and El Camino on the contrary were merely ordinary utilities, used in a more casual way. Why is this 1949 Hudson laying like it does in the woods, on his back like a twisted horse from a surrealistic painting by Salvador Dali?  In its time it yet was a respectable limousine with an unconventional unibody construction, which gave this car a gorgeous slim streamline. That automobile represented a superb sense of a new era, after World War II, and embodied the optimism on unlimited technological progress.

We see in all these vehicles how sophisticated and with fantastic precision and exuberant creativity an individual design concept has been carried trough. These are true pieces of visual art in their details of the body outlining and the contemporary styling.  The patina gained by many years of bad weather, gives their appearance an extra intensity.


I provided each painting with some basic technical specs, to emphasize that there is more behind every picture than merely pure esthetics. As mentioned before, a car is also in particular an icon of human technical ingenuity. Therefore mechanics and arts don't have to be separate worlds. It's rather a sign of creative poverty to choose only the one and implicitly reject the other. In this project I want to embrace them both, because they are entangled here.


I really had to record this in a range of paintings, looking for a compromise between on the one hand a realistic-figurative drawing of the automobile and on the other hand more impressionistic shaped surroundings, to position the optical center on the right place. And a range was necessary because one single picture of such a decaying automobile doesn’t generate the right story, which the series does accomplish.


The exposure of all these decaying relics from the recent automobile history gives me a melancholic and nostalgic longing for an era that perhaps sooner than expected will be vanished forever. The development in mobility, which last century was so much determined by the technology these vehicles were based on, is now changing directions radically. The progressing computerization and development of other energy systems will cause that in a few decades the automobile romanticism of the twentieth century will sound strange to the new generations.




Albert Monsanto, 2017



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