Art Cars – Individual Expressions of Folk Art

Thanksgiving is almost here. For the past twelve or thirteen years, Art Week* followed close behind bringing in December. This year all will be different. We are being urged to continue socially distancing and remain in our personal Hotel Californias during Thanksgiving. Art Week will be celebrated in a greatly reduced format. The cancellation of the main show, Art Basel Miami Beach, was announced several months ago. Other shows are being staged in vitual formats.

*I hope to be able to document some of Art Week 2020’s activities. It will not be as extravagant (or tiring) as last year’s reportage (see Dec 3-16, 2019 posts)!

Last year, I had an extended and enjoyable discussion about the nature of folk art with a gallerist during our famous art extravaganza. We did not see eye-to-eye about the definition of “folk art.” I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that folk art – the aesthetic, material expressions of self-taught people – can either emerge from a community tradition (quilts, Easter eggs, etc.) or be individualist creations (often called visionary).

Painting, Ruby Williams
Greek, Ukrainian Easter eggs

Recently, I was reintroduced to some folk art in our own community, actually something that bridges both categories. Vehicles have long been decorated and ornamented as long as they’ve had vehicles, I think. In Greece, beads meant to ward off the evil eye on displayed along the front grill of trucks. Before trucks were used to carry loads, similar beads festooned donkeys.

Not the beads, but May wreath, Greece, 1984

Richly and imaginatively painted trucks have been documented from Pakistan to Haiti (two places I have yet to visit). Since our fair city is considered to be the gateway to the Caribbean, at least two Haitian tap taps grace our streets.

Actually, I’ve only seen them parked in the neighborhood near a well-loved, landmark restaurant, Tap Tap, founded in 1997, closed in 2019. The trucks are somehow associated with their namesake.

Mura, Tap Tap Restaurant, Miami Herald

As folk art, they are descended from a tradition of painting local, public transportation in Haiti.

On the other hand, art cars or art trucks in the US (and probably elsewhere) are the visual expression of individuals who ornament their vehicles in many conceivable ways. I was introduced to this form of personal expression in the summer of 2015 when I was in Washington DC to participate in a conference at the Smithsonian Institute. My stay at my in-laws’ comfortable home in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of the capital coincided with their annual street festival. Everyone on their street which winds down a hillside decorates their yards, has garage sales, and puts out food for everyone to enjoy. The children are organized in a colorful parade.

from the parade

Someone had brought this imaginatively decorated truck which totally captivated me. So much work and thought had been put into the ornamentation of a rather drab vehicle.

I am not so sure I share the sentiment!

Wishing everyone to remain safe and healthy as 2020 moves towards its conclusion with art.


  1. It’s volunteer Beata from NWS incase you don’t remember me. Montreal. Really interesting posts. I enjoy receiving them. This is probably not Folk Art but some folk did this in Wynwood and I caught him on one of the side streets when I was doing my street photography workshop. FYFun. I really enjoyed this elephant art. Stay safe



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