Story by Mark McCourt, adapted from a profile in Hemmings Classic Car magazine, images provided by Ken Eberts
Nearly every car-loving kid with an artistic bent has put pencil to paper to express his or her passion in visual form, but few are so lucky to be able to focus and nurture a childhood dream into a highly successful and influential career that spans more than 50 years. Then again, few have the talent and tenacity of Ken Eberts.
Ken grew up in New York City’s Bronx, where the brightly colored cars of the 1950s inspired him to dream up “Future Motors,” a car company of his invention that competed with the Big Three: “I would do cutaway drawings and manuals, where I’d break down and number all the parts,” he remembers. “I made little 2 x 4-based models that I sold to my neighbors for $1.50. That led me to enter the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild [Model Car Competition], where I got an honorable mention.”
His formal education culminated at the Art Center College of Design, where he and friend David McIntosh created their own fiberglass-bodied sports cars; Ken is currently restoring his example. Upon finishing school, he was hired as a designer by Ford. California soon beckoned him back, and he left to work for Lockheed. Ken’s automotive creativity never left him, and in 1968 he began rendering cars in gouache and transparent watercolors.
The following year he took the leap to becoming a full-time artist. “I think I’ve done 1,350 paintings since 1968. But even better is that I was able to sell virtually all of them,” Ken says. “Of course, this isn’t an easy way to make a living- it’s been up and down. I’d start thinking about getting another nine-to-five job, and the phone would ring with a gallery telling me they’d just sold a painting.”
He's been able to incorporate some of his favorite cars–indeed, at times those in his own fleet–into some of the commissioned pieces he’s known for, including the annual AACA Hershey Fall Meet event poster.
Ken was one of six founding members of the Automotive Fine Arts Society and remains its president today. The mission of the AFAS, which currently has about 30 active, associate, and honorary members, is to have automobiles considered a valid subject for fine art. “Automotive art is increasingly shown in art museums,” he muses. “I’d like to see it go still further, for there to be a greater focus on ‘serious,’ nostalgic automotive art.” With a lifetime of creative car art to look back on, has Ken contemplated throttling back? Never, he says: “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, because I enjoy painting, and I love cars.”
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