The Ford Flex is not your soccer mom's crossover. Despite its roots in the genteel woody wagons of the past - its antecedent, the 2005 Ford Fairlane concept, was inspired partly by Ralph Lauren - the Flex is street tough and street smart. It cries out for customization the way a bare wall in Brooklyn cries out for paint.
That is why we asked Lee Quiñones, a contemporary artist whose roots are in the subway graffiti movement, to turn a new Ford Flex into a rolling work of art. Traditionally, screwdriver magazines do "project cars." We wanted to do something much more ambitious: an art car. As longtime fans, we were sure that putting Lee together with the Flex would produce something astonishing.
A graffiti pioneer, Lee rose to international fame in the art world. Today, his work is included in the collection of the Whitney Museum, the Groninger Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.
"A car? Yeah, I can do that," Lee said when editor-in-chief Jean Jennings approached him. "I've done cars."
The cars he had worked on before were bigger, of course. They were the number 5 cars of the IRT subway in New York, parked in the yards, or "layups," of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The Flex reminded him of those cars. "It's a big box. It makes you think of subway cars," he says. "We used to call them loaves of bread." He pioneered painting the whole car, creating a complete rolling mural.
"It was great to have an expression that went from one end of the city to the other," he recalls. The experience gave the teenager a heady sense of the power of art. He knew who his audience was. "Two million people moved in and out of the city every day," he says, "judging my work from behind their newspapers."
Lee decided to use the Flex to express the essence and energy of New York City. The Ford would become a rolling record of the street culture of the city, especially from the '70s and '80s, a tough and gritty era but also a rich time for music and fashion.
"The Flex is a crossover vehicle," Lee says, "and I wanted images that showed the crossover of cultures - underground art and the high art world, music and fashion, and so on."
When the Flex was delivered on September 3 to Area Garage on Delancey Street, not far from where Lee grew up, he did nothing for a while but contemplate it. He had asked for a cinnamon Flex, because it seemed to be the right color for the time. "The spirit of the time is always a color," he says.