Over the years, the automotive artist has had a certain stigma, appearing almost exclusively at car shows. With the opening of the new Fireball Gallery, Oxnard’s Murphy Auto Museum, in partnership with Fireball Tim Lawrence, aims to change that perception.
“The goal of this gallery is to shift the mindset of the value the artist brings to the community, and we want to establish that these kinds of artists belong in a gallery,” said Lawrence, a resident of Malibu, owner of Fireball Publishing and founder of the Fireball Malibu vlog/TV series. Over the years, he has earned a reputation as a true legend in the car design world, having conceived or designed vehicles for more than 400 of Hollywood’s biggest hits, including Batman, Knight Rider, Jurassic Park and X-Men.
The Fireball Gallery, which officially opened on May 11 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, features the work of five artists “that see the automotive world vastly different,” Lawrence said. “It’s very diverse. Every photographer sees through their lens, every painter sees imagery of cars and interprets that differently. The goal of the Fireball Gallery is to establish credibility and that passion for cars as art.”
For instance, the gallery features a sculpture created by Bohemia Incorporated, an elusive collective of artists that Lawrence has never seen. “What’s nice about them is that they’re L.A. street artists; they did the install [at the Murphy Auto Museum] and nobody’s even met them,” he said.
Other artists who’ve contributed creations to the gallery include Wes Nielsen, an automotive photographer, and Geoff Ombao, a painter and illustrator. Chris Garcia, an illustrator who goes by the pseudonym “The Betty Hunter,” has six paintings of his motor series on display.
“They’re basically like ’50’s movies posters around engines,” explained Garcia, of Northridge, adding that his goal through his artwork is to establish “an appreciation of the nostalgia.”
Ventura resident Johnny Martinez, a self-taught vehicle pinstriper, brought his 1929 Ford Model A Hot Rod Pickup to the ribbon cutting ceremony to showcase the vehicle, which was a winner at the 2013 Grand National Roadster Show.
“After I won in 2013 it was my 29th win . . . I stopped showing and picked up a striping brush and I taught myself how to pinstripe,” he recalled. Within a year, he became known not only for his pickup, but for his talent for pinstriping, and today, 17 of his designs are on display in the Fireball Gallery. “I never enchanted for any of this to happen; I’m a simple guy who wanted a hot rod . . . now I’m in the fast lane at 105 miles an hour — it’s unbelievable.”
The Murphy Auto Museum is the only automotive museum in the country “that we know of that has a gallery dedicated to automotive art,” said David Neel, owner of the Murphy Auto Museum. “You have art galleries that have automotive art, but those are gallery owners who don’t really know anything about cars. We’re an automotive museum that has car art for sale and we know who these artists are. They’re amazing and we’re going to rotate on a quarterly basis. Four times a year, people can come back and see something new.”
Naming the new gallery after Fireball Tim Lawrence (yes, that is his legal name) was fitting “because I know nothing about automotive art,” Neel said. “I know a lot about classic cars and antique travel trailers . . . I know nothing about automotive art and Fireball does, so it makes sense to name the gallery after him.”
In addition to the new Fireball Gallery, which is permanent, the Murphy Auto Museum also features a model train railroad as well as a permanent display of antique travel trailers, including vintage trailers and campers all decorated with period-correct, old-school camping memorabilia. This display is highlighted every summer, with this year’s Seventh Annual Vintage Trailer Show taking place on June 29. The museum also hosts the new Muscles & Mojo car show on the first Sunday of the month. The next event, hosted by Fireball Tim, takes place on June 2.
At the Murphy are 90 cars on display and rotated on a continuous basis to keep the collection fresh.
“We’re mainly American cars that you grew up with on the street you grew up on; these are cars that were in the driveways of your friends and neighbors — American station wagons, American pickups, little roadster cars and four-door cars,” Neel said. “That makes us a different level of engagement than somewhere else, because you can come up and look at the cars.”
The Murphy Auto Museum is also unique because it’s a 501c3 nonprofit organization, Neel added. “We’re 100 percent volunteers. Nobody gets a penny. Everything goes 100 percent towards rent and programs.”
The current collection at the Fireball Gallery will be on exhibit through Aug. 9 at the Murphy Auto Museum, 2230 Statham Blvd., Oxnard. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call 805-487-4333 or visit www.murphyautomuseum.org.