beginning with boris

by Art Chantry:

in my eternal quest to find the origins of the dreaded “hot rod monster”, i have been reminded (by jordi duro) of this particular image. this ad here is illustrated by boris artzybasheff (from fortune magazine, 1952.) but, i’ve got to point out that it also ran in popular mechanics a little earlier, and i believe in several other magazines as well. artzybasheff often sold his images for use several times. he was a popular dude (and a smart businessman).

boris artzybasheff was one of the coolest and most popular illustartors of mid-century industrial america. for instance, it’s been said that he illustrated more TIME magazine covers than anybody else (except perhaps for jack davis, that is.) he did wonderful portraiture and that was his main-stay work wise. but, he also excelled at anthropomorphizing machinery – the PERFECT metaphor for industrial america. it’s his machine imagery is what we bozos out here in nowheresville love best about the guy.

this one particular illustration seems to have been one of his most influential, however. i even stole it outright and stuck it on a freebie give-away single for the mono men (it was distributed inside of Gearhead magazine.) it’s that kind of an image – everybody loves it. ever since i first saw this when i was little tiny kid, i’ve kept a copy of it around and stared at it in awe.

the thing is, i’m not the only one to do that. robert williams, outsider artist extrordianire, often sites artzybasheff’s influence and work as a primary influence on his career and style. so, does almost every other old school hot rod monster artist of the early days as well. artzybasheff was the original hot rod artist godhead. when they started making images of ‘monsters driving hot rods’, it was because they had all been looking at this guy’s work. no joke. they all admit it.

one of the things that cemented boris’s position as an originator of this idea seems to be evidenced by one of his other main rivals in ‘godhead of hotrod art’ status – von dutch, the master hisself – actually copycatted artzybasheff’s work very directly. von dutch is generally credited with originating so many things we take for granted in american pop culture that a list of his innovations actually seems shocking (illustrated tshirts, airbushed tshirts, pin stripping, van murals, hot rod monsters, flame jobs, choppers, krazy kustom kolors, etc. etc. etc.). but, when von dutch started to draw pictures of monsters driving hot rods (the first guy to do that, supposedly), he was copycatting boris artzybasheff’s work – and this image in particular.

in the book, “Kustom Kulture”, that was publsihed about the kustom kulture exhibit of the early 1990′s, there is a photo of a very early tshirt image by von dutch (i’d scan it and show you, but i can’t find my copy of that book right now). actually, i don’t think it’s an actual tshirt, but perhaps a sweatshirst of even a sweater. this thing is circa 1952 – the same year as this illustration reproduced in the advert right here. please note how similar they are. scary, eh? the biggest and oddest thing here (that has been noted by so many ‘esteemed critics and historians’ is that it’s not really a “monster driving a hot rod”, it’s a monster that IS a hot rod. this is one of the very few still existing images of von dutch’s hot rod tshirt images that survives today, so it’s all we have to go on (it was a tremendously ephemeral art form).

von dutch often touted artzybasheff as a master and admired his work openly. boris had been cranking out anthropomorphized machine images for decades (especially ww2-era fighter jets, a von dutch favorite) . furthermore, these images were often reproduced int he workingman’s bible – “popular mechanics” – on a regular basis and as special art features (as well as adverts for products). the idea that von dutch would NOT be familiar with boris’s work is beyond imagining. it’s just true.

so, who is the real ‘inventor’ of the hot rod monster? academics and intellectuals ignore this stuff (try to imagine being taught this crap in a college art class. ridiculous!) professional historians say “e

th” and quit there. if you talk to armchair critics and amateur historians and general fans of the outsider art genre, they all cheer “von dutch”. but if you start to look and compare and research – or talk to the horse’s mouth, the actual survivng dudes who began this whole mess, they say “boris artzybasheff”.

you gonna argue with dutch? good luck with that.

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