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Car or canvas? Tom Forrestall paints over 1980 Mercedes-Benz

At first glance, it looks like a car that’s been left in a field to moss over.

But as you get closer, you see that what is covering the 1980 Mercedes-Benz 300 SD isn’t moss but delicately painted greenery, and as you walk around it, it transitions from grass to autumn leaves and finally to a wintry blizzard. This isn’t just any car — it’s A Car for All Seasons, the latest piece from Halifax artist Tom Forrestall, currently on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

In a storied artistic career that spans over 50 years and dozens of exhibitions, Forrestall has made a name for himself as one of the Maritimes’ pre-eminent landscape painters. But even for him, painting an automobile was a first.

“I’ve been fascinated for over 50 years with paintings taking on a more creative shape other than rectangles — the car is definitely a shaped painting,” he said. “One of the big problems I had as I painted it was to reconcile my realistic style — all the leaves, grass, snow and flowers — with the shape of the car. Finally, I concluded that I would see it as a kind of tapestry or a blanket that’s thrown over the car and hangs down from the edges.”

The inspiration behind A Car for All Seasons came from his desire to do something with his beloved Mercedes, which had been collecting dust for years.

“I’ve owned it since 1980, and because it was my first brand-new car, I kept it immaculate,” he said. “But I was going to sell the car, since it was just sitting in the garage. A friend, Mary KW O’Regan, suggested I paint something on it and I said that I could paint the four seasons.”

JoAnne Caza of Mercedes-Benz Canada, who partnered with Forrestall for the project, praised the level of detail found in his work.

“The four seasons have been immortalized on sheet metal yet they dance on the car as if the car were in motion,” she said. “The general public might have seen painted cars here and there over the years but I don’t think anything that has been so meticulously thought out as [this].”

For Forrestall, exhibiting A Car for All Seasons at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery carries a special significance.

“I worked there when it first opened in 1959 — my first job at age 21,” he said. “I remember Lord Beaverbrook interviewing me for the job and it was a strange interview, to say the least. But I am certainly delighted the Beaverbrook would have [A Car for All Seasons] — at the gallery it’s not just a painted car, it’s a work of art.”

While Forrestall doubts his Mercedes will ever see the road again, he hasn’t ruled out the notion of painting another car down the road. “If someone comes along and puts the question to me, maybe I will,” he said with a laugh. “For the time being, I think I should get back to my regular paintings.”

A Car For All Seasons will be on display at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery from March 5 through April 19, 2015. The official exhibition reception, including an artist tour and talk, will take place on Saturday, March 21 at 2 p.m.

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