July 10, Daniel Aksten
"The Gold Rush Hour or There's Mirages in Them Thar Hills"
Why is it that humans (and magpies) are drawn to shiny objects? Evolutionary scientists say sparkly things reminds us of sunlight on the water, essential to our survival, transformed by desire into emotional satisfaction, interpreted by our subconscious mind as beauty. Is it the trickle of a crystal clear stream, or the gleam of the ocean we see twinkling in the eyes of our beloved?
Metal things painted metallic, presumably to make them seem even more... metal, became ubiquitous in design around the same time that office products threw off the oppressive 3M beige. Computers shed their khakis for the new black skin, with bronze highlights until they resembled obsidian monoliths flecked with fool’s gold. Outdoors lit by the California sun, every car, motorcycle and bicycle contour became imbued with the aura of finely crumpled foil. Inside, metallic paint was applied to plastics to transform every gadget into a shiny fetish object. As car bodies became ever more plastic, metallic paint loaned them authority. Metallic finish today distinguishes executive accessories from mere children’s toys.
Good luck finding a new car today that isn’t painted metallic. You may run across a rare flat primary: red or white, but both would look better with a candy or prismatic pearl coating. Metallics reveal volume by mysteriously shifting hues at odd angles. Unlike florescence or harsh op-art checkerboard patterns, the metallic retinal flash will never go out of fashion. Its biological.
Blessed as we are with a surfeit of sun in Los Angeles, the downside is a lack of fresh rainwater. New Yorkers seem to be conspicuously showing off if they hit the carwash between frequent showers. If left unwashed for a week in East LA, the deepest opalescent candy-apple low-rider with hundreds of layers of clear coat will grow a fuzz of crystallized smog toxic enough to etch glass.
Fortunately for West Coasters there are over 500 AutoZones in Los Angeles County. Even more Pep Boys. Within each retail giant is an entire aisle, maybe two, filled with nothing but car cleaning supplies. That is more shelf space than all the convenience store flower kiosks in the Big Apple, more total area than all the shoe stores in Manhattan-- dedicated to pungent chemicals and ShamWows.
The Pacific sun makes us do it. There is nothing quite like the buttery crepuscular rays of sunset to wake up every metallic glimmer aligned on a well-sculpted machine. It commands them to dance and twinkle like a far away star through mirage refraction off the surface plane. Washing the car is a sun salutation here. New York will never know what thirsty Angelino’s lizard brains hallucinate daily, sometimes for an hour or more, depending on your commute.
Nine artists and one writer embrace metallic, either as material or idea.