Guy Overfelt utilizes language embedded in American car culture. Specifically originating with that established in 1977 with the release of the Universal Pictures film Smokey and The Bandit starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Field.

This film (to anyone who hasn’t seen or doesn’t remember it) personifies archetypal role of Modern blue-collar American masculinity. Prevalent in late 1970s and early 80s media and television, the typical associations were a penchant for anti-authority behavior (e.g., boot legging is the film’s central theme), material obsession (car centric focus) and sexually heroic behavior (rescuing a runaway bride from the sheriff’s son).

Overfelt is interested in the mechanisms and outcomes of the embedded social codes expressed by the film and subsequently mass marketed through film sequels and merchandising.

Smokey and The Bandit

Universal Pictures, 1977

Original film trailer

Guy Overfelt

Untitled (1977 Smokey and The Bandit Trans AM), 1999-2010

Inflatable nylon and electric blower

The artists uses a 1977 Smokey and The Bandit-replica, Pontiac Firebird (and concepts associated with the movie) to explore social archetypes and the contextual relevancy in the crossover of gear-head culture into the fine arts environment. The objects seen in the gallery (i.e., photographs, tire burnouts on linen or Arches paper) are but evidence to the experimentation, planning and purposeful mark-making present in Overfelt’s work.

Left:  Engine Sensor Layout, Trans AM: Phase II Burnout Drawing 1998

Ink and engine grease on ruled paper 

Right: Untitled (Burnout no. 6, Follner Parking Lot)


Goodyear Eagle drag slicks on Belgian linen

Overfelt builds and handles the maintenance of his Firebird (he is at work on his second) and works to tirelessly repair and perfect the functionality of the car to achieve peak performance. Documentation of the process of making (e.g., greasy rags, notebook schematics, garage photographs, etc.) often accompany his work to indicate the action unseen in this process of making.

The artist describes the projects as

“a 13 year degenerative process at work that address failure of achievement and the dissolution of the American dream in real time. What started out as a fully functional classic muscle car has dissolved into a deflated wrecked poetic and prophetic carnage of the US car industry and the phoenix which once brilliant stood upon the hood of this Hollywood icon, The Smokey and The Bandit Pontiac Trans AM.”

His performances, like Video documentation of the creation of Burnout Drawings, Pier 70, San Francisco, CA, 1998 (below), illustrate the performative actions and purposeful mark making that is largely unseen by or recorded for gallery audiences.

Video documentation of the creation of Burnout Drawings, Pier 70, San Francisco, CA


Overfelt cites Modern masters as artistic influences: Barnett Newman (think: Zips), Richard Serra (Steel and the physicality of making), Gordon Matta Clark (building cuts). These American artists, beginning in the era of the Abstract Expressionists, personified their generation’s idealism for strong masculine leaders or cowboys, if you will, consuming materials and conquering artistic frontiers.

While Smokey and The Bandit is but a mere memory (if at all) to most, Overfelt uses the film to trace a specifically American pursuit of freedom through the cult of the automobile. This concept of automobile as process, performance and mark making tool that can be viewed as a codex of which the pages are the wide open asphalt of the American road.

Currently the second incarnation of Overfelt’s 1977 Trans Am is in the process of being built. However, if you’re in California you can see the artist’s original vehicle on display (in its current form), as well as an inflatable version, at the Oakland Museum of California at City Center on exhibition January 21 - April 30, 2010.

Overfelt’s work can be seen at The Butcher’s Daughter through

February 20, 2010 and a comprehensive overview of work is available on the artist’s website (www.thinkcontext.com).

Above: Overfelt’s crushed 1977 Pontiac Firebird

Steel and car parts


Right: Untitled (1977 Smokey and the Bandit Trans AM)


Installation view of inflatable 1977 Pontiac Firebird

Oakland  Museum of California at City Center Sculpture Court