Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sad: Artist and art-car sculptor Tom Kennedy Drowned

Artist and activist Tom Kennedy, known internationally for his work in "art car sculpturing" drowned about 2 p.m. Sunday April 19th, 2009 at Ocean Beach California.

The Bay Area artist was a pioneer in the art-car movement who built the Topsy-Turvy Bus for ice cream czar Ben Cohen and Ripper the Friendly Shark for himself.

Mr. Kennedy, who was 48, was pulled from the surf just south of the Cliff House.

The cause of death was not released Monday, but friends wrote on Laughingsquid.com that he had been body surfing and was hit by a large wave, and a companion pulled him to shore.

Rescue crews rushed him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, according to officials at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Mr. Kennedy's art cars were vehicles that have been turned into rolling works of original art - they look a lot different from ordinary, factory-designed cars.

Harrod Blank, a veteran of the art-car movement, said Mr. Kennedy's works "were, ironically, inspired by the sea - his famous art-car, Ripper the Friendly Shark, was one, and there was Fishbait, an angelfish bicycle, the Sharkbite bicycle, the Dolphin Car and the Whale."

Cobbling up cars that looked like sharks and upside-down buses was hardly in the offing 20 years ago, when Mr. Kennedy was living in Houston and plying the corporate trade.

"Tom worked at the Houston Chronicle" in circulation sales, Blank said, "and he did the typical things - buy a house, get married, get a good job, the whole traditional lifestyle. Then he went to a Houston drowned about 2 p.m. Sunday at Ocean Beach parade. After seeing the effect these rolling sculptures had on people, he decided he wanted to make an art car and join that group of people. He made Ripper the Friendly Shark.

"It suspends your disbelief. It's a car, but all you see on the highway is a giant shark. It's something you're not used to seeing on a highway."

Mr. Kennedy left the Houston Chronicle and began devoting every waking hour to his new and different life as an art-car sculptor, aided by his wife and collaborator, Haideen Anderson.

Mr. Kennedy did art cars for public exhibits and also for individual clients, such as Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The Cohen bus was a rolling protest against military spending. Mr. Kennedy built more than 30 art cars in all, and his art-car career and life can be seen at his Web site: www.tomkennedyart.com.

Mr. Kennedy also did special cars, like the Whale, for the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, a place where he felt there was enough room to stretch.

"I told him about Burning Man," Blank said, "and that opened the doors to his creativity. It was a venue where he could make large-scale sculptures and blow fire.

"He was kind of a renegade," Blank added. "He would drive Ripper like a shark, zigzagging around. He celebrated that a lot - he wanted to live, and he lived by that principle."

He received his bachelor's degree in marketing from the University of Houston and then spent a couple of years studying at the university's School of Sculpture.

He will have a part in an upcoming documentary see www.artispatriotic.com )“He hit the road hard,” said California car artist and filmmaker Harrold Blank. “He called himself an ambassador of good will.”

Blank’s documentary, Automorphisis, which features Kennedy, will be screened this weekend at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.

“We thought this would be a celebration,” Blank said. “Now I guess it will be a memorialization.”

Among Kennedy’s early creations were the eye-shaped vehicle that shot Twinkies from a cannon and the Mack the Fin Mobile.

The Topsy Turvy bus — a school bus with a second upside down bus welded to its top — alluded to military expenditures made at the expense of education and health programs.

A truck bearing a large missile and accompanied by a bevy of female attendants made numerous appearances during the past presidential election.

Mr. Kennedy is survived by his wife.

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