Mid Atlantic Region
Clarke Bedford's art cars and home art environment Vanadu Gardens in Hyattesville, Maryland
Clarke Bedford (b. 1947)
Art Type or Medium: Environment/Installation
Secular or Religious: Secular
Rather than conventional “art cars” with self-contained themes, Bedford’s vehicles are more like movable sculptures that are part of his overall body of work. His home environment began accidentally after the Saab “exploded” and he began to incorporate parts of it into the fencing around his property. The fence became an ongoing work of assemblage-sculpture, and soon a “Christmas tree,” made from a piece of 1930s cast iron dental equipment sprouting fan blades — draped with Christmas lights for the holidays — became his first yard decoration. “You just keep having more stuff, something doesn’t fit on the cars, and you don’t like it on the fence, so you put it on the side of the house,” Bedford says. Influenced by his conservator’s perspective, almost everything displayed outdoors is weather-resistant, and he uses very little paint. Ceramics and glass supply color accents, but overall, the industrial grey metallic look predominates. Bedford embraces the “Steampunk” aesthetic: “the Volvo became like a sculpture, a little bit like a boat, a little bit like a cityscape, a little bit like an industrial revolution machine, it’s what the Steampunk thing I think is all about: this fascination with giant steam machines, Jules Verne, and the whole kind of weird threatening elegance of Victorian times: Sherlock Holmes, sinister things, World War I….” His sculptural environment is an outgrowth of his “huge passion” for collecting artifacts from this favorite era, and he spent many weekends driving out into the country to thrift stores and auctions. “So my interest evolved from more of an antique thing into more of an art thing; it’s some kind of an acknowledgment of the difference between machinery in the industrial revolution and our modern invisible electronics.”
Formerly known as Contempo By The Lake after a found sign attached to the front door, Bedford currently calls his site Vanadu Gardens. His best-known vehicle, Vanadu, an ’88 Ford Econoline van, is usually parked on the street in front: “people think it looks architectural, like the skyline of Budapest.” Site and vehicle assemblages are bolted together (Bedford doesn’t weld) from the cut, ground, and drilled raw materials he finds. For Vanadu, the various attached metals were painted in layers, then sprayed with carburetor cleaner to create a uniform aged-metal patina that contradicts the underlying era of the van: “there’s a lot of fakery in conservation — and with these cars and the house, it’s all about fakery — it’s trying to make the thing look like it’s been there for a long, long time even though your mind says it couldn’t have been.”
The non-doctrinaire, open-ended aesthetic of the early Modernist period also appeals to Bedford: artists such as Picasso and Gauguin, who embraced influences from nonwestern tribal cultures, or Van Gogh, who followed his own (deeply) inner course. In a similar vein, Bedford admires what he terms the “outsider ethos” of self-taught environment-builders who freely turn their inner passions into a public spectacle. Vanadu Gardens is not an imitation of an “outsider” environment, however: it is an authentic and resplendent result of the artist allowing his own passions to spread out all over!
Most of Clarke Bedford’s site is easily visible from the sidewalk, and he welcomes visitors. If he isn’t home to offer a tour, however, he asks that his private property be respected.