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Artist Takes Craft to the Street

This artist goes the extra distance to make sure his visions are available for all to see. Conrad Jay Bladey creates what he calls ‘car art’. VOA’s Craig Fitzpatrick rode along to see just what drives this artist. His story is narrated by Ted Landphair.

Conrad Jay Bladey is a high school history teacher and although he’s not Irish he teaches Irish culture at this community college. Conrad talks to his students.

He has written numerous books on Irish wakes, weddings and Irish handicraft. Conrad has also worked as an archeologist and dabbled in anthropology and architecture. He’s a man of many interests, who likes playing the tin whistle to relax.

But when he really wants to wake up the world, he plays one of his more outrageous inventions, the horn hat. Since Conrad makes horn hats, he calls himself a horn hatter.

He also calls himself a visionary artist, an artist whose canvas is the slightly used American car. His art is sometimes on display here at his house in suburban Maryland and sometimes it’s not, for unlike conventional art, this art is drive-able.

Conrad says music and art are a big part of his life, part of his being. Talking about his cars he says, “Currently I have four art cars, and I would never drive anything that was plain, because I have learned the joy of driving an art car. People connect to it. When they see the art car they are amazed and their face lightens up and they smile and they say, 'Hi,' and you connect; you’re part of humanity.”

Conrad has painted and decorated his cars in a wide range of styles. He calls this car his party car, because someone once said, “It looks like a party driving by.”

Conrad’s drippings remind many of a Jackson Pollock painting. His 1965 Dodge Coronet is painted in the style of the abstract painter Piet Mondrian. His other cars are a little harder to define, like his magnet car, with magnetic trinkets on the hood and sunburned Barbie’s on the roof.

Pointing to his car, Conrad says, “These are the 'no sunblock Barbies,' which is what happens if you don’t have your sun block, you turn nice and red.”

Conrad’s most elaborate work of art is his “Handie” car: a car with a message.

He says of this car, “My Handie car is a ‘90 Grand Am, covered with hands, and it’s a shrine to the helping hand. Give thanks for help. Never underestimate the power, in this world, of the helping hand.”

Unlike many car artists who keep their cars in museums, Conrad is proud that his cars actually get him around.

Conrad gets joy out of driving his car and says, “I bring my wife to work. I drive my daughter to school. I take myself to work. I do my errands. We go everywhere in art cars.”

Conrad says that everyone should try some form of art and surround themselves with it.

His hope is to encourage others. “My thing is to encourage people to make art cars," he says. "Go make one. So I can see it. So I can smile when I’m watching, you know, when I’m driving. Give me something to look at.”

And Conrad has given us plenty to look at and smile about and a new way of experiencing art.