People in Love with their Cars

Marin County artist celebrates Americans' family relationships with their automobiles
The love that people feel for their cars has rarely been so lovingly portrayed in art as it has been by Gale S. McKee in her 'The American Car: A Family Portrait' exhibit. Check it out.
McKee's 'Cadillac Candy'
McKee's 'Roadtrip: Geraldine & Me'

They stand proudly next to them. They smile at them. They touch them tenderly.

The love that people feel for their cars has rarely, we bet, been so lovingly portrayed in art as it has been by Gale S. McKee, who is showing off her devotion in a new exhibit, ‘The American Car: A Family Portrait.’

It runs December 12 through January 10 at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, 500 Palm Drive, Novato, with a reception 5 to 7 p.m. December 12.

It should be a nostalgic, romantic show in a nostalgic, romantic place, a historic building on the former Hamilton Field, a decommissioned military base.

McKee, who lives in Kentfield and has a studio alongside the museum, describes her series of vintage car-and-people portraits as suggesting that “the car is a beloved part of the family. They are proud of this new member and want to show it off.”

The paintings reflect, she says, “the ongoing love affair with the automobile, since its inception, as an integral part of American life.”

McKee, who owns a Subaru she’s named ‘Pinhead,’ based on the letters in its license plate, is more interested in the people in the photos than the cars—though the cars are spiffy enough.

Looking at vintage photos, she recalls, “I noticed these people were all standing in front of their cars—the kids, the dogs, the people.”

“Who were they? What were they doing the moment the photo was taken?” she wonders. “What happened to them?”

Her painting show real people whose images she finds on old photos gleaned from flea markets. There are GIs on furlough, newlyweds from the 1920s, a grinning guy in a decal-decorated VW bug enjoying the ‘Summer of Love.’

McKee works by transferring the photo images to canvas, then working over them with paint—but not painting the people themselves. “They’re neutral color.” She doesn’t want the images to be simply colorized photos.

McKee, who has designed for Pottery Barn and has worked in advertising and as an illustrator, has shown often in galleries and museums. She sells the paintings generally for $2,000 to $4,000.

“Each is one-of-a-kind, and they are huge, five feet by three feet, and painted on raw linen,” she says. “There’s a lot of texture and drips and scratches and all kinds of things you don’t see in the photographs.”

 “You really have to see them in person.”

For more on Gale S. McKee’s ‘The American Car: A Family Portrait’ exhibit, click here.

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