A few years back, a friend of mine visiting San Francisco texted me a picture. The image was the side of a nondescript white building, with what looked like a red, flattened Fiat 850 Spider. I did some research, and that's exactly what it was. The buidling was the Moscone Center, the car was once a Fiat 850 Spider, and the automotive flayer was Dustin Shuler.

Shuler, a former crane operator and steel mill worker, was a Southern Californian artist who worked extensively with cars. The piece on the Moscone Center was an example of one of his most famous series of work, the Car Pelts. The concept behind the Car Pelts is one that plays with the way we relate to cars, and how that relationship in some ways parallels our relationship with animals. Shuler painstakingly skins the car in much the same manner as one would skin an animal. Not that I've ever skinned anything more fierce than a banana, but based on survival manuals I've flipped through, the parallels sure seem to be there.


The end results are quite striking. In order to flatten the many compound curves of most car bodies, he cuts the outer steel layer into panels, then re-welds the sections back together. The finished pelts look a lot like colossal versions of papercraft cars. Or maybe papercraft cars look like tiny versions of these? Either way, they're cool.

Shuler seemed to be fond of old Beetles (he used toy versions in later works), but he made car pelts for a wide variety of cars: Pintos, Porsches, Triumphs, Mercedes-Benzes, even a Police cruiser that he said was his favorite.

Shuler used cars in much of his other work, including a performance piece called Death of An Era, where he built a giant 20 foot long nail and dropped it from a crane into his '59 Cadillac, and Spindle, a giant spike with (from top to bottom) a VW Beetle, BMW 2002, Ford Escort, Ford Capri, Ford Mustang II, Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford LTD, and a Mercury Grand Marquis impaled on it.

The gigantic nail was used in several other pieces, such as Pinned Butterfly, where Shuler pinned a Cessna to a building like butterfly pinned in a sample case. If you're going to make a colossal nail, you may as well get as much use out of it as possible.


In an entirely depressing victory of tedium over interesting, Spindle was demolished in 2008 to make room for a fucking Walgreen's. Shuler died two years later, but his work will likely keep reminding artists that there's something inherently interesting about cars.