Self-Taught Artist Brightens Lucas Valley

Kevin Sullivan
Kevin Sullivan has made a mark in Lucas Valley with his exterior decorations that include characters from Pixar animated movies. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

Every neighborhood should have someone like Kevin Sullivan – someone who is genial, is a presence on the street, gets to know people, watches out for trouble, contributes a bit of color, a bit of joy, some homemade art.

In Marin County’s original Lucas Valley tract of Eichler homes that person is Kevin Sullivan, who says that he and his wife Beth Sullivan “have been here about 19 years. We love this neighborhood.”

For about 15 of those years Kevin has been turning his front yard into a constantly evolving display of art, artistry, and whimsy.

Sullivan's front garden is a compendium of memorabilia, natural forms, whimsy and Pixar.

There are giant stones, industrial-strength ship cables, birdhouses, oddball masks descending from trees, and a 600-pound stone on a pedestal. You will also spot a pattern, if you know the wildly popular animated films created by Pixar Studios, which is based in Emeryville and is a subsidiary of Disney.

Kevin works in the trades, pretty much all of them, he says. He is a union welder and pile driver and a former Marine, and too young to retire, he adds. He’s proud of his Irish heritage and still speaks with the Massachusetts accent of his youth.

“At 77 I’m just doing small jobs for people who know me,” he says. He’s done a fair amount of work on Eichlers in the tract, which is also known as 'the Berries' because street names end in the word '…berry.'

Kevin stands with his latest Pixar Tail Art, a character from the new film ‘Onward.’ It is his sixteenth Pixar character.

The images of Pixar characters can be found throughout his property, in the private spaces as well as the public. They include the father (or, rather, bottom half of the father) from the Pixar flick that just hit theaters, ‘Onward.’

“That’s Ratatouille from the first movie,” Kevin says, as he leads a tour. “There’s Jessie, there’s Buzz and Lightning. That’s Miss Fritter from Cars 3.”

The figures are cut from aluminum based on large images he gets from Pixar, and often decorated with many other materials, both found and bought. His Miss Fritter – a talking school bus – incorporates real chains and old license plates.

  Miss Fritter
Miss Fritter is a blend of assemblage folk art and pop culture.

“That was quite a bit of work, finding those old license plates,” he says.

He adds, “Never took an art lesson in my life.”

About his artistic skill, Kevin says, “It comes from my blessed mother in heaven. She was a nurse, she did the house repairs, and she did all kinds of art. And I have Mum’s hands, and once in a while I talk to her and thank her for her gifts.”

The characters are painted by Todd D’Amario, “a dear friend and an artist,” who used to work for Pixar, Kevin says.

Elastigirl is attached as Tail Art to the rear of Kevin's Jeep by his home, adding a touch of whimsy to the neighborhood.

For Kevin, Pixar and its characters are almost family. Beth has been working for the studio for 33 years in post-production. Were it not for that, Kevin says, they would probably still be living in a more traditional home in Fairfax.

When Pixar issued stock in the mid-1980s, with Steve Jobs its largest shareholder, “We all got stock,” Kevin says, “and it was the only way we could afford the Eichler. I had worked on the Eichlers and really, really liked them. And thank you, Steve Jobs, in heaven, because you shared the wealth with us.”

From the beginning, Beth and Kevin have been affixing the figures to the rear ends of their his-and-her Jeeps. They call the pieces “Tail art.” Beth parks her Jeep at Pixar, and fellow employees enjoy them. Pixar Post wrote about the creations back in 2016:

  Bing Bong
Bing Bong appeared in the 2015 film 'Inside Art.' Kevin always makes his figures when the films open.

“As each new film hits theaters, the characters get refreshed with Beth selecting the character, Kevin crafting the aluminum sculpts and Todd meticulously painting the characters to make them truly eye-popping.”

Kevin is cognizant that Disney/Pixar owns the copyright on all their characters and Kevin doesn’t intend to violate it. “Nobody pays me (for the artworks),” he says. “They will go to my grandchildren.”

Kevin and Beth have four children – and eight grandchildren.

Once he pulled into a Safeway parking lot with one of the characters affixed to his truck. A man offered to buy it. “I said, it’s not for sale. He offered me $2,500 cash. I said I would never sell it.”

  Spot and Arlo
Spot and Arlo starred in 'The Good Dinosaur.'

About his art, Kevin says, “I do it for my lovey, my wife, and I do it for the children.”

“My biggest reward for the art I do,” he says, involves pleasing children. He cites an example.

He’d parked his Jeep adorned with a Pixar image in a parking lot and saw a mom walking with her son, 12 or 13, with Down Syndrome. Kevin had a hunch.

“I said, excuse me, Mum, maybe your son would like to say hello to Mater. “

Mater is a rusty, old tow truck with a gap-toothed smile, a good heart, a notable accent, and a complete lack of pretension. Not unlike Kevin Sullivan, you might say.

Kevin continues the story: “And the son turns around and said, ‘MATER!’ and came across the parking lot and hugged him. That was payback for everything I’ve ever done, that one little boy.”

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