Shifting Gears The making of an art car

7 days | 6 students | 3 professors | 1 car


Mia Arostigui '19 Studio Art major
Olubori (Gabe) Babaoye '19 Graphic Design major
Crystal Baltazar '21, Studio Art major
Kyle Sabbatino '18 Graphic Design major
Danielle Thomasson '19, Graphic Design major
Leila Valencia '19 Studio Art major


Six student artists from University of the Pacific's Department of Art and Graphic Design over the winter transformed a 1982 BMW 320 into a work of art, following the same road paved by celebrated artists such as Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein. Along the way, students learned about the rich history of the automobile as an art form.

The project is the brainchild of Stockton car collector and former Pacific art student, Dick McClure ’78.

In spring 2017, McClure shared his love of car history with Pacific art department chairs Brett DeBoer and Daniel Kasser as well as the university’s art curator, Lisa Cooperman. They said they were looking for student projects, and McClure told them about BMW and other famous art cars of the past such as Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche.

That's when they decided to create the Shifting Gears course and art car project.

McClure bought the BMW and donated it last October during Homecoming weekend.

McClure delivers BMW during Homecoming festivities in October 2017.


At the beginning, 17 students expressed an interest in the project, many more than could practically take part, so a competition was devised to select who would make the art car team. About a dozen interested artists selected a car hood or trunk at a Stockton junkyard and demonstrated their skills.

Students were allowed to paint whatever they wanted on the hoods with the understanding that those designs would not necessarily be part of the finished car.

"That became both a blessing and a curse because it became really, really difficult to pick," said Department of Art and Graphic Design Co-Chair Brett deBoer. "The quality and the variety made it a very difficult choice."

In the end, six students were chosen whose work could stylistically mesh.

Students painted car hoods and trunks to compete for one of the six spots on the art car team.

After students joined the art car team, they learned about the history of the automobile as art. Regional experts such as local artist Carlos Lopez, car historian Michael Lamm and automotive photographer Phil Toy visited the campus, showed their work and shared their passion for classic cars in February before painting began.

Photographer Phil Toy shows his work to the Shifting Gears students.


After weeks of prep work and design meetings in which the team developed a cohesive theme, painting officially began March 2.

"The final design process had to be one in which there was a synthesis," said Department of Art and Graphic Design Co-Chair Daniel Kasser. "Our responsibility as faculty is to teach them how to manage talent and to manage themselves. So we set some pretty strong design criteria in terms of their capacity to do the work and their performance as students in the department."

Kasser said developing the ability to defer, compromise and synthesize their style was among the most important lessons the Shifting Gears course provided.

"One challenge we faced would definitely be the stripes on the hood and roof. Kyle and I had to measure out each, individually spaced line. At first when we did it, the measurements were off, so we had to go back in multiple times to correct it." — Danielle Thomasson
"That feeling of writing, and drawing and painting on something you're not allowed to paint on, I like that." — Mia Arostigui
"I wanted to be able to work with a 3D surface. Working with canvas, you can only go so far. I wanted to see where else I could take my art." — Olubori (Gabe) Babaoye
"To choose the theme of the car, we talked about the car's history and the fact that it's a German car. We had to compromise our styles with the other artists'." — Crystal Baltazar.
"It's supposed to be a German expressionistic car because BMW is a German car. We wanted to do a gradient because we didn't want to keep it the original color. We did blue faded into a lighter blue as if it's in motion and then added German expressionistic fields around it." — Kyle Sabbatino.
"I'm proud of all of us as a group working together and getting it done on time." — Leila Valencia
"The students realized this is an opportunity to do graduate-level kinds of work as an undergraduate, and that's what we've been doing here at Pacific for years." — Art professor Daniel Kasser
"I'd just like to thank Dick McClure for this opportunity. It was a really great experience, and I had lot of fun. And I hope he enjoys the car." — Danielle Thomasson.


Story: Elizabeth Stevens | Photos: Jaslyn Gilbert | University of the Pacific