Maritime painter William (Will) Forrestall is well known for his carefully crafted egg tempera still-lives, but he has other sides such as this that will come as a surprise to many. The term Kinetic Sculpture has been around for some time. Roughly speaking it is sculpture that moves or does something other than just sit there as most self-respecting sculptures do. There are even early descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures that had mechanical movements. Alexander Calder’s mobiles are a more recent example of kinetic sculpture although their movements are not mechanical, but with the help of the wind, it does move. Will’s sculptures are not only kinetic, but they actually work as a form of transportation. A major influence for Will, however, was the American performance artist Chris Burden’s B-Car from 1977 who wanted to make a 100mph car that would get 100mpg. He got close. The B-Car could do 50mph and got 150mph. The chicken and egg question in both of Will’s kinetic works and Burden’s B-Car is that are they sculptures that are vehicles or vehicles that are sculptures?
Will had told me about his pedal cars a few times in the past, but I paid him little attention. It was enough, I thought, that I liked his paintings and that we tended to have long conversations on the nature of art. It was only after I actually saw a group of them exhibited in the George Fry Gallery at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton last November that I realized how wonderful and strangely beautiful they were. I was at the gallery with an artist friend of mine and the first thing that we wanted to do was drive, or pedal, off into the sunset with one them. We actually could, as I learned from Will, as his cars are street legal and regarded by the city as bicycles. Downtown Fredericton would be a much happier, and safer, place if everyone was pedalling around in a Forrestall pedal car, make that a kinetic sculpture, than an automobile.
Will researches the projects he takes on throughly and his vehicles were no different. The modern pedal car was born of necessity during World War II mostly in Sweden, Finland, and France where there was nearly no gasoline to be had for private vehicles. Indeed, up until around 1950, they were still being used. Many were kit car where you could buy plans by mail. It was claimed by some that you could get up to fifty kilometres per hour with two happy people pedalling madly, but I think that would have been downhill with a stiff tailwind. There is an interview between Will and a Swedish builder of an early kit car, Claes Johanson, in the catalogue of the George Fry exhibition. It was no easy task for him to build one of these cars from the less than complete plans, but he did. Johanson had in the early 1950s peddled a moped from Stockholm to Paris just to see if it could be done. I’m not sure that Will has plans to pedal to Montreal anytime soon, so you will have to come to New Brunswick to see his creations.
His cars are the product of co-operation with others, often his daughters, Bess and Rachel, and sometimes university students as class projects. Some of his cars also have tiny auxiliary electric or gas power engines, but none can do any better than twelve miles an hour. As Will puts it: “The goal was – to create a new design of transportation, on a no-cost or low cost basis. Something never before seen, yet somehow functional, and fun.” They are often made of found “junk” repurposed in wonderful and weird ways. An old lamp shade became a nose cone; wheels can be from children’s bicycles bought at yard sales; a frying pan is turned into the base of a head lamp; and ‘new’ stuff, like a horn comes from a dollar store and so on.
The Red Bug (2007) is electric powered by 12 v electric motors were surplus motors, originally designed for radiator fans in trucks. It is the speedster of his creations and can do twelve miles an hour although it is seldom driven at that speed especially with its horn speaker trailer that can be used both to play music or for the driver to broadcast to the public as he pedals by. You can imagine the effect of the Red Bug driving down Fredericton’s main street playing music – pure Dada.
Sliver Streak (2010) reminds me of an early 20th century race car, but it is going nowhere fast unless you are an exceptional pedaler. It is prettiest of the bunch to my mind. Again, it was constructed with materials salvaged by Will and friends from garbage and yard sales. Three wheeled, like the Red Bug, this single seater is pure pedal power. Perhaps this is the kind of transportation that we will all be using if the world keeps going the way it has in the 21st century. The most basic of his vehicles is Blue Bird (Buddy Trike 2012-15). This two seater pedal car is transportation reduced to its most minimal form; an open frame, seats and chain drive. It is the purist of his cars and possesses a beauty all its own.
His creations remind me of the pedal cars of my childhood. I certainly wanted one so that I could pretend to drive a car just like my dad. Unfortunately, we lived in downtown San Francisco and me driving on the street at four or five years old in one was out of the question. Sure wanted one, though. Actually, I want one of Will’s cars now.
In Motion Re-Cycled The Kinetic Cars of William Forrestall. Andrew & Laura McCain Art Gallery (New Brunswick), July 7 – August 4, 2018.