When Harrod Blank realized that his ’65 VW Beetle could be treated as a canvas, the result was his first Art Car,Oh My God! Painted in like a beach ball, (with a bumper of plastic fruit & rubber chickens, a chalkboard on back and a TV on the roof) the car became the catalyst for his remarkable career.
Initially, Blank thought he was the only one in the world with an Art Car, and at times he felt quite alienated. This would change, as he gradually learned from supporters that there were other such cars, spread out across the country. Drawing from what he had learned from his father, filmmaker Les Blank, and his BA in Theater Arts/Film (from UC Santa Cruz in 1986) Blank began photographing other Art Cars. Subsequently, he raised money through private investors, and personal loans, to finance the 64-minute documentary he dreamed of making: Wild Wheels.
To his credit, over 55 million people worldwide have seen the film. Blank initially distributed Wild Wheels, (featuring 46 Art Cars and their respective artists) by appearing with “Oh My God!” as he toured 50 cities across the United States. Publicity from the tour attracted the interest of PBS, which then broadcast the film as a National Special in the 1993. Soon after the PBS showings, Blank’s Art Car photography was featured in a companion book, Wild Wheels (Pomegranate, 1994; Blank Books, 2001), which was named “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association.
Blank was inspired by a dream to attach 1,705 cameras to a 1972 Dodge van. This vision for his second art vehicle merged his passion for Art Cars with his love of photography. Cleverly hiding ten working cameras among the rest, Blank had found a way to capture on film the public’s candid expressions of awe and delight. In 1995, Blank drove the Camera Van from California to New York City for its official debut. The resulting photographs that Blank shot on that road trip, (over 5,000 photographs) became a traveling photography exhibit, “I’ve Got A Vision.”
In 1995, still enamored by beauty and power of Art Cars, Blank began production of a feature-length sequel to Wild Wheels. A short version of the in-progress film (Driving the Dream, 29 minutes) was broadcast on TBS’s, “National Geographic Explorer” in October 1997. This exposure helped Blank raise money for his epic film, Automorphosis which was completed in 2009.
Blank made his third Art Car in 1998, an interactive Mariachi-themed music mobile called Pico De Gallo. This musical VW Bug was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in 2011. The vehicle was also unveiled in Blank’s second book, Art Cars: The Cars, the Artists, the Obsession, the Craft (Lark Books, 2002, 2007). Renown film critic, Gene Shalet heralded the book on the Today Show as his favorite holiday gift suggestion for 2002. In the Spring of 2003, The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, hosted a major exhibition of Art Cars and Burning Man vehicles (called “Wild Wheels: Art for the Road”). Harrod Blank was the guest curator of that novel exhibit. Blank has also curated multiple Art Car exhibits at The National Automobile Museum in Reno Nevada, the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento, California, and the Beijing Auto Museum.
In 2009, Blank released Automorphosis, and toured the US doing theatrical screenings. On the last theatrical play date in Albuquerque NM, the Camera Van blew its engine and the only mechanic that could fix the van was Rusty Tidenberg who became the subject of Harrod’s next film, about gender identity, Why Can’t I Be Me? Around You. In addition to releasing this next film, Blank is also working on, a 25-year-long film project on Burning Man, the radical arts festival that takes place in the Nevada desert every year; a film about his father Les Blank with Gina Leibrecht; and finishing his father’s final film, (left unfinished at his passing in 2013) about Alabama folk artist Butch Anthony. Blank is also building an Art Car museum and artist’s residence in Douglas Arizona called Art Car World. Since 2013 he has been the president of Les Blank Films and has remastered and released Les Blank’s films, A Poem Is A Naked Person (2015), Chulas Fronteras and Del Mero Corazon (Re-released by Argot Pictures in 2019.)