This will probably sound weird. But when you’re around tires and wheels as much as we are, you start to see the beauty in them. We can really appreciate the perfect symmetry of an all-season tire, the smooth minimalism of a motorsport tire, or the bold style of an off-road tire like the Dick Cepek Crusher, with its “bonecrusher” tread pattern and skull-and-crossbones sidewall art:
Basically, for tire geeks like us, it’s not a stretch to see tires as art, even in their natural states. But a small number of fine artists are taking things to the next level – transforming used tires and even found hubcaps into beautiful, awe-inspiring, and truly mind-blowing art that’s been displayed in some of the world’s top museums and galleries.
Let’s start with Yong-Ho Ji, a Korean artist whose best-known works are made from recycled tires. Ji creates incredibly detailed sculptures of fish, animals, humans, and animal-human hybrids from hand-cut strips of tires molded onto an interior framework – not unlike the way muscles and skin hang on an animal’s skeleton. Ji calls his creations “mutants.” The sculptures are sleek and elegant, but can also be dark and frightening at the same time. Speaking of both tires and his artwork, Ji says, “My concept is mutation – mutants. The product is from nature, from the white sap of latex trees but here it’s changed. The color is black. The look is scary. Rubber is very flexible, like skin, like muscles.”
Ji’s mutants made their first U.S. appearance at New York City’s Gana Art Gallery in 2008, and since then have been shown all over the world.
Another artist using tires as a medium for artwork is Wim Delvoye, a Belgian artist well-known for turning the everyday into the extraordinary. Delvoye hand-carves incredibly intricate patterns into used tires, transforming them from heavy black rubber rings into delicate, organic, lacelike designs. Delvoye’s work has also been shown worldwide, and his carved tires have even appeared in an installation at the Louvre.
Keep in mind that Delvoye isn’t enlisting the help of machines or lasers to carve these tires – he works entirely by hand, which makes the detail, symmetry, and delicacy of these designs even more amazing.
“I’m not interested in sculpting cubes or painting monochromes, it’s too easy. Art must fascinate people and doing easy things is not a good way to seek fascination,” Delvoye says.
If you’re interested, Delvoye’s work is for sale online – “price on request.” We took the liberty of requesting the price, just for fun. For $72,000 Euro (just under $90,000 US) one of these ethereal carved tires can be yours.
Artist Brett Graham, a member of New Zealand’s Maori tribe, used car tires in some of the works in his “Weapons of Mass Destruction” series. “Mihaia” (Messiah) is a near full-size replica of a Russian BRDM-2 tank, created from carved MDF (medium-density fiberboard) and car tires. The surface of the tank is painstakingly etched with Maori-inspired symbols.
“(The BRDM-2) is obsolete now. However, it was used by over 40 countries, every time you turn on the television, in some third world country they seem to have one of these tanks. I was fascinated by the way that people replaced the salvation and religion and god by this sort of faith and salvation in weapons.”
British artist Ptolemy Elrington works in a slightly different medium – old hubcaps. Since 1997, Elrington has been fashioning what he calls “Hubcap Creatures” — transforming hubcaps found on the side of the road into whimsical animal sculptures using salvaged wire, a mig welder, and a few simple hand tools.
After finishing college in Bradford, England, Elrington stayed on in his college town. He lived by a sharp turn in the road where cars often lost hubcaps, which he collected with thoughts of eventually creating a suit of armor. But then he noticed that the hubcaps had “marine-like” qualities, and started crafting sea creatures from the castoff caps. Initially he gave away his creations as gifts, but when friends started requesting hubcap animals, he realized his potential business opportunity. Today, Elrington’s sculptures have evolved well beyond sea dwellers to include penguins, dragons, wolves, raptors, spiders, and other real and fanciful creatures.
“I like to work with reclaimed materials to show that what is one person’s junk is another man’s treasure,” says Elrington. “I believe strongly in ethical business and want to be able to provide an example of that. My work concerns recycling, ethical awareness, and an understanding of the nature of value – I think it’s really important to discuss these things in order to encourage us to lead less damaging and more rewarding lives.” Since his materials are mostly free, Elrington charges only for the labor required to create his pieces.
These artists inspire us by showing that even the most ordinary, unwanted materials can be transformed into powerful artistic statements and objects of great beauty. We look forward to seeing what they do next – whether they’re working with discarded tires, found hubcaps, or any other media.