Lars Fisk’s Automotive Sculptures Are a Ball—Literally

Rolling into the uncanny / tin-canny valley.

Sculptor Lars Fisk likes to toy with perception through the use of toy-like motifs. He’s put this into practice often in his role as Art Director for the perpetually-touring jam band Phish, creating and curating immersive, micro-architectural installations—think It’s a Small World, but on more acid. But as a car guy, and someone who can’t abide insolent guitar noodling, I’m far more drawn to his automotive-themed Car Ball sculptures.

Fisk has been working on this series for the past fifteen years. “The first vehicular piece that I did was the UPS truck ball,” he tells me in a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “Because of their boxiness and their brownness, I was able to effectively use that as a subject in the work. The sculpture is ultimately anything but a box, but in that unmistakable brownness that is a part of UPS’s corporate identity, it functioned as a sort of perception shift, which is really what I’m going for in these works,” he says. “To see the thing, and to understand what it is, while simultaneously your perception is refuting that. It’s sort of a way of seeing a thing for what it isn’t.” Did your mind just implode?

Similarly rectilinear vehicular forms—a John Deere tractor, a yellow school bus, a Mister Softee ice cream truck—were subsequently given the spherical treatment, paving the way for Fisk’s latest, “Dodge Ball.” Installed in the outdoor breezeway at the Marlborough Gallery in Midtown Manhattan until the end of this month, it's a warped (and wrapped) version of what Fisk describes as a “suburban grocery getter.” (To my eye, it looks most like a 1968 Dodge Monaco Station Wagon, but I’ll defer to any Mopar mavens out there.) Fisk typically sources most of the components from found auto parts that he then modifies, but some of the more detailed or difficult pieces are fabricated. He completes all of the metal, paint, glass, and interior work himself.

Lars Fisk

The pieces are at once playful and menacing. They’re undeniably cute, but they seem poised on the edge of spooling out of control, rolling out with no ability (or will) to stop. They put me in mind—thematically, though less kinetically—of Chris Burden’s Metropolis II, with its frantic cascade of toy cars and maddeningly dissociative scale and proportion. Fisk agrees. “I think maybe some of that is because they’re so against logic. The form is such an unlikely one for the subject matter to take that it’s discombobulating.” In other words, they're at once tin-canny, and uncanny.

Given all of these automotive pieces, I feel obliged to ask Fisk if he, as a Brooklynite, has a car, or at least a car fetish. It turns out that the answer is yes, to both. “I’m a Volkswagen nut,” he says. “I have a 1982 Westfalia Camper. I love that thing. It’s my second home—I take months-long trips. And I have a 2005 GTI, that’s sort of my town car.”

Lars Fisk

Fisk’s Type 2 obsession has surfaced in his artwork; one of his best-known ball pieces was of a VW Bus, which he saw as already having begun the transformation from the angular into the globular. “Those things—the Bubble Bus as they sometimes call them—was so rounded, it was on its way to being spherical.” And he used his Vanagon as part of a cross-country roaming art installation, a commentary on consumerism in which he would regularly transform the van into an ersatz self-storage unit and photograph it in unlikely, and very non-commercial, places

Lars Fisk

I ask Fisk if he has a dream vehicle he’s still planning to, for lack of a better term, "ball," but he deflects. “There isn’t anything particularly that I’m dying to make,” he says. “But people really like them, there’s a demand for that particular kind of subject matter, so I do continue to make them.” Yet his latest personal automotive fixation sounds very much like one of his pieces: customized, re-fabricated, re-sized, perspective shifted.

Coke O'Neil

“I’ve got my eyes on this great split-window Volkswagen Transporter,” he says. “It’s a utility truck, a single cab with the flatbed in the back. And someone shortened it, took a good four feet off the length. Typically, I like all-original vehicles. I like to keep these things true to the stock parts and pieces. But it kind of makes sense. It’s a small truck to begin with, and with a flat bed, I don’t think you really need all of that length.” He sighs, slightly. “It’s got no engine, but we can deal with that.”

Sure. Just ball it up and roll it.

Lars Fisk