After being diagnosed with stage three brain cancer after a sudden seizure in 2017, LA-based visual artist Ethan Lipsitz adjusted his outlook and focus. His main concern was healing. Surgery came first. The tumor was removed but the diagnosis remained. Radiation and chemotherapy followed, and Lipsitz was forced to step down from his job. After a friend asked him to describe his perfect day, and to dedicate himself to living it each day, a project unveiled itself—and a different kind of healing began.
Lipsitz, a painter and a car fan, purchased a Honda Del Sol and painted it ahead of a road trip from Los Angeles to Cabo with his friend, photographer Daniel Johnson. From painting the car to unofficially touring it down the coast and subsequently photographing the trip, Lipsitz forged a new career in visual art. These travels culminated in a digital portfolio of texts and images, a gallery show and an online store comprised of shirts with his patterns and prints of Johnson’s photographs.
“The car is the perfect canvas,” Lipsitz explains. “It’s smooth yet curvaceous so I feel gratified running paint across it. I also really love taking the risk of leaving paint on a vehicle not entirely knowing how it will turn out. It’s like overcoming an initial fear and finding joy on the other side. When I’m painting a car, I get into a deep meditative state—I move quickly and confidently once the forms begin to appear and get excited to take it out and see how much joy it spreads and what other reactions it gets.”
Furthering his commitment to automobiles as canvases, his most recent project employs a Porsche 928 he purchased in 2008 as the foundation for his hand-painted pattern work. Referencing Keith Haring, the Memphis design movement and a cultural anthropology theory that our population is slowly shifting back to using hieroglyphics (once painted marks and now emoji) as communication tools, a distinct style emerges.
“I have always loved cars and the intersection of art and function,” he tells CH. “I remember being inspired by Keith Haring’s motorcycle painting and the BMW Art Car series as a kid. It was a dream of mine to paint a car, but it always seemed like too much of an investment to play with. After the Honda, I painted a lot of other vehicles including two Priuses, a Volvo wagon and a Ducati. All of this practice gave me the confidence to paint my favorite car: Blanca, a white 1979 Porsche 928. I felt confident I could make Blanca look awesome and knew the risk wasn’t crazy as I could always paint over it if things didn’t work out.”
See a behind-the-scenes video of the process at Lipstiz’s site.
Hero image by Nate Taylor, courtesy of Ethan Lipsitz