Sometimes practicality and creativity go hand in hand. In 2002, the Delaney brothers, owners of M&J Auto Repair in Saint Paul, were looking to drum up more business. The problem was that their garage didn’t look enough like a garage; the telltale roll-up doors faced the parking lot in the rear, so passing motorists on Prior Avenue saw only a nondescript brick wall. Their novel solution was to recruit local artist and old high school classmate Brian Sobaski (known around the Twin Cities for his unique straw sculptures) to turn the shop’s west wall into something impossible to ignore.
Sobaski found his inspiration in a selection of automotive ads from the 1930s. “It’s kind of their style,” he says, “it’s an old school repair shop – not a lot of computers, very analog.” He proceeded to emblazon the building with a row of one-story black-and-white cartoon panels spotlighting some of the motoring mishaps that M&J specializes in repairing. Ten years later, the blown-out tires and ailing engines of yesteryear still loom large over Prior Avenue.
Sobaski proudly notes that although the Delaneys invested in anti-graffiti sealant for his paintings, it’s rarely been put to the test: “I think it’s kind of a show of respect from the taggers.”
The ads glow with a friendly liveliness not often seen in modern advertising, especially in my largely industrial pocket of Midway. Their kinetic energy, crisp monochrome and clean geometric design are unmistakably retro, but there’s also a timelessness to them that draws me in every time I pass by. Our eyes aren’t trained to expect art in that environment, let alone see it on a business as traditionally utilitarian as an auto shop, and that makes it all the more arresting.
Curiously enough, the image Sobaski identifies as “everybody’s favorite” is the only one that isn’t car-related: a mugshot of a grinning black dog sporting the slogan “KEEP SMILING.” It’s an order that I, for one, can’t help but obey.’
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)