The Discovery of Vanadu

I believe that sometimes we like to think of our lives as simple lines, paths we can chart out with precision for weeks and years in advance. It is all too easy to forget the proverb that life is about the journey and not the destination. But from time to time we are reminded that it is not in the things we plan, but the things which catch us by surprise that true wonder is found. And like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings even the smallest things can change our paths in weird and amazing ways. Tiny things. Inconsequential things. Things like a pregnant woman’s nervous bladder.

Let me explain. My wife and I just returned from a vacation of sorts during which we went to Knoxville, Tennessee with my parents to witness my sister’s college graduation. When we weren’t driving back and forth along winding mountain roads (my Florida-flatland-accustomed stomach has still not completely settled) we spent our time resting in a rustic cabin at the Big Ridge State Park and hiking various mountain trails. (The “we” in this case only includes me and my father, as my rather pregnant wife elected not to go traipsing through tick-infested woods.)

When at last the time came to return home we all piled into my father’s van and started the nine-hour drive from Tennessee to Florida. It might not have taken so long, except for the fact that my wife, being pregnant, has to stop fairly often to, *ahem* “visit Mrs. Murphy” on account of the fact that the tiny human currently residing in her belly won’t stop karate-kicking her bladder.

This means that we became well-acquainted with nearly every rest area in Alabama. And for that fact I am eternally grateful. Because if it hadn’t been for my wife’s endless bathroom breaks I might have never have seen Vanadu.

What is Vanadu? you may ask. Let me set the scene for you. You’re sitting in the back seat of a car barreling down the interstate, still feeling slightly sick from all the swerving, swaying, squiggling mountain roads you’ve left behind you. Up ahead you see a sign that says, “Rest Stop: One Mile”. Even before the question is asked you know the answer. Of course you’re going to need to stop. You lean back in your seat silently weighing the benefits of getting to stretch your legs against the disadvantage of arriving home nearly an hour later than usual. Then, suddenly, appearing around the bend up ahead, you see this:

This my friends is Vanadu. The size of the image I’m able to fit in this post doesn’t fully do it justice, but having seen thing in person, let me just tell ya’ll this thing is freaking awesome.

It’s got bits and pieces from all kinds of things, car parts, washing machine parts, moose antlers, sculptures and knickknacks, and some stuff you’re just not sure what it is.

You start snapping pictures. Because something this amazing, something this perfectly bizarre…it isn’t enough to see it and walk away. You have to document, you have to share. You have to be able to say, “I was there.”

I got to meet the guy who put the whole thing together. He was more than happy to tell me a little about who he was and where he was going in this grotesquely beautiful piece of motorized art. His name was Clarke Bedford and he was driving all the way from Maryland to Houston, Texas to participate in an art car parade taking place there. Yes, you read correctly. Driving. Clarke Bedford’s art car isn’t just awesome, it’s also fully functional (and, I assume, mostly legal) motor vehicle. In fact from reading information on Clarke’s website, the only vehicles he owns are art cars. Exhibiting his work is as simple an act as driving to the grocery store.

And as if creating amazing vehicle art wasn’t enough, turns out Mr. Bedford has even more artistic wonderment up his sleeve having worked as a sculptor, photographer and creator of faux art history. That last one may need some explanation. Basically he creates satirical works of art in the styles of various periods and movements, while building a story them. For instance, his essay “A brief description of the Argyle Sock and other Laundry Imagery in Modern Art” and the accompanying works of art that accompany said essay are both brilliant and hilarious. I highly recommend visiting his website for more information.

The reason I’m talking about this guy (other than the fact that he’s totally awesome) is that I think often we tend to think of art in the past tense. At least I do. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Dali and Dore, Escher and Warhol, they’re all gone, done with, their body of work forever frozen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, death comes to all of us eventually, but its nice to be reminded that there are still people today pushing the limits of creativity, doing things that make the world just a little weirder and just a shade more beautiful.

I don’t know if history will remember Clarke Bedford for his efforts, I can’t predict whether adoring crowds will throng to see his amazing vehicles and crazy collection of sock art in years far in the future. But for me to drive up and see the wonder of Vanadu parked at a lowly interstate rest area sparked a moment of pure joy. Seeing his work, even for a few short minutes made me scratch my head while it spoke to my heart. It forced me rethink my assumptions about things I thought I understood perfectly. And if that isn’t art, then I don’t know what is.

5 responses to “The Discovery of Vanadu

  1. Hmm, the pictures are just blank boxes for me. If I try to open them in a different tab it requires a dropbox login.

    • Sorry! I’ve uploaded new copies of the pictures directly to wordpress, so hopefully there won’t be any more confusion. I was attempting to link the files from a “Public” Dropbox folder, but once again technology has undone my best efforts. We apologize for the inconvenience.

  2. No problem! I just really wanted to see the photos 🙂 Great reminder post, thank you.

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