HomeCar CultureCommentaryNext big thing: Functional automotive art, for the road or the gallery

Next big thing: Functional automotive art, for the road or the gallery


What’s the Next Big Thing? It is definitely not one more muscle car, or one more supercar.  It is not one more $5-million Ferrari or another $2-million Mercedes.  My hunch is that ‘the next big thing’will be the transcendence of vehicles into art, and that these artistic builds will be equally at home in a museum or out on the open road.

In Work 4unnamed
Kelly Phipps creating art | Photo from Kelly Phipps

I predict we will see more one-of-a-kind original designs, builds that fuse automotive art, design, culture and functionality.

Of course, nobody really knows what the NBT will be. But for more years than I can remember, I have walked the rows of the biggest automotive events, from the SEMA Show to the Barrett Jackson auction with its rows and rows of vendors, and I’ve been looking for signs of the next big thing.  I have seen everything imaginable, and 1,000 versions of that.  Most years there is simply nothing new, just more of the same.

This year at Arizona Auction Week I’d just about given up. Same old jewelry, pool tables, and bikes and boats. And then, there is was.

After what seems a jillion years building rods, customs, cruisers, muscle and more, I assure you that you are about to experience automotive art and culture like you have never thought possible, in an art form you never imagined.

This year, amongst the jewelry, time-share pitches, and widgets and wadgets, I turned down one more vendor aisle and saw something I have never seen before, or even imagined before, in my way too lengthy automotive career.

Right there at Barrett-Jackson, proudly perched on a back-lit stand was the most gorgeous patina on a 1940 Ford pickup truck hood, and on the hood was the most detailed hand plasma-cut design artwork I could ever imagine.

If you have ever tried your hand at plasma cutting, you know you are terrible at it.  Imagine using this skill alongside a razor-sharp understanding of the history of the automobile to produce exceptional automotive art.

We are talking about an entire relic truck hood cut into intricately detailed designs that remind you of where you started many years ago and how you got here today.

Instantly I envisioned this hood on my next custom rod, or roadster, or truck, or even hanging on my wall just so others could be envious and I could enjoy it every day.  This is the art and design that propels an average rod into becoming a timeless piece of automotive culture.

This is the work of uber-talented metal artist Kelly Phipps, who obliterates conventionality with her work.  It will behoove you to remember her name — Kelly Phipps, genius of automotive art, design and culture.

The finished product | Photo from Kelly Phipps

She creates timeless designs, intricately plasma cutting her vision of automotive culture into every piece.

Working from her design studio in Hood River Oregon, Kelly is not only a self-taught artist but a self-taught metal fabricator as well.

Kelly described her artistic journey for us: “After, pursuing art in various forms, I settled, long ago on metal because I like the undisciplined nature of art and being able to let my imagination flow. I take real pleasure in using a cold static material such as steel to fashion a warm intricate design that compels the viewer to appreciate that the magic is not only in the material of the piece but the hand that created it.”

Kelly continued,  “My favorite part of the process is going through scrap yards, sifting through piles of metal and finding that special treasure that I know will transform into a work of art.”

Each piece is one-of-a-kind, hand-drawn and hand-cut, the hard way — using old relic cold steel and a precision plasma cutter. Heart surgeons would be awestruck at her nerves of steel, deadly precision and steady hand.  One slip and a months’work would be totally destroyed.

Kelly creates her work for high-end rods, rats, relics and your office wall. From entire hoods, bed sides, radiator shells and roofs, she will design a piece that evokes the essence of your ride and automotive culture.

She also creates plasma-cut works of art from vintage tool boxes, engine covers, motorcycle fenders, and the like, producing works never to be copied or duplicated, only admired.

These pieces won’t come cheap and they shouldn’t. They are original, they are unique, they are functional automotive art, design and culture.

What’s the next big thing, you ask?  For me, I am going this way.Untitled-2


Barry Sprague
Barry Sprague
Barry Sprague is an automotive lifer, living his entire life within the confines of the automotive industry. The youngest person in Texas to get a driver�s license at the age of 13, he built his first 55 Chevy 2 Door Post that very year. An ASE Certified Master Technician before the age of 20 he was the youngest shop foreman ever of a major metropolitan GM dealership. Barry has held technical positions with the American Automobile Association, written used car buyers books and consumer articles, and was an automotive journalist for local ABC and Fox affiliates. Barry founded the first nationally recognized ASE Master Certified automotive inspection company, and has built numerous record-breaking, and award-winning restorations. Barry joined the ClassicCars.com staff team in 2014 - his current obsession is �the next big thing�, and rat rods.
  1. And some cars stand on their own as fine examples of art
    For me it’s the early Bugattis and mid to late 1940s Buicks

  2. I think the fretwork done by plasma cutter is interesting, but I would wish it would relate to the car it was being used on, to enhance and enrich the functionality of the vehicle. Bugattis, Delahaye and other French cars of the post WWI era were truly sculpted by master coach builders and raised automotive design to the level of high art. Not so sure about the work you favor…an old car hood may be a ‘canvas’ for Kelly, but it has little to do with the car, except as a source of sheet metal, pre bent into an interesting shape.

  3. I saw this artist at Barrett Jackson this year and was blown away by the detail and precision she manages to get with her plasma cutter. My wife told me she was going to get out the cutter when we got home and make a shovel. I told her not to bother as I didn’t want a bunch of ruined tools cluttering up the shop and bought her one. I figured I most likely saved money in the long run..
    Thanks, great stuff and see you next year.

  4. It’s thrilling to see something new for a change. Yes, as I see others have said, expensive, classic cars are an art all their own and many of us have been lucky enough to experience owning one or more, but I can see how this plasma art of Kellys can reach a whole new level of collectible autos. I think I’d like to line up for one myself! I could even pick out my own design beforehand to make it personal and one of a kind. I’m picturing my old pickup on the ranch renewed into a usuable but beautiful piece of art. How fun. Good luck young lady – you’re on to something!

  5. Dav must not have seen the Ford Truck Hood, it featured many iconic Blue Oval images from the period of the hood, a well researched piece. While the International Harvester hood featured images and epitaphs from WW II bomber and fighter aircraft, again, a well researched piece. Keep an eye out on Facebook for Ms Phipps next big automotive piece, a full profile Austin Healey sculpture featuring a time line for the AH brand from 1952- 1968

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