Published On: Wed, Oct 5th, 2016

“Arto-Mobile”- By Yusuf Arakkal

World famous Indian artist Mr. Yusuf Arakkal who left this world for the other yesterday, was a good friend and adviser to  Smartdrive magazine. As the tribute to the renowned artist and sculptor, we are republishing the article which he has written for Smartdrive.  - Editor

Yusuf with his Willys Jeep

Yusuf with his Willys Jeep

 Text by Yusuf Arakkal Photos by Shibu Arakkal


“It is a good bike why don’t you just drive it around as it is.”

The workshop owner suggested. In the sixties I drove around an Enfield ‘Ensign’  Motor cycle.  I thought of modifying it  to make it look flashy and  appealing,  specially to impress girls in my art  school. The work shop owner doesn’t seems to be very enthusiastic about the idea of modifying it. I promptly crashed it one day and changed the shape.  I escaped unhurt. Yet the idea of modifying automobiles persisted in my mind. Probably it is this desire which culminated in converting my fiat car into a work of art.


Yusuf's VW Beetle

Yusuf’s VW Beetle

I went to school in a classic automobile. An Austin Tourer in gleaming green. In Bangalore it was motor bikes for me. Norton Navigator, Royal  Enfield, Jawa Lambreta   and even a Vicky moped.  The car came in the  eighties,  towards  the end of my career as a technician  in  Hindustan Aeronautics.  It is a story of me falling in love with this 1956 Fiat Millicento.

A winter evening in the mid-eighties.  Mist hung around Bangalore city but the visibility was fine.  Harish Padbhanaba and me drove towards the city. Harish, a friend and one of my earliest collectors had just picked up two paintings and a small sculpture of mine. We were out to celebrate the occasion. We talked art and drove towards Windsor Manor Sheraton, one of my favorite waterholes in those days.

“I have an old car being done up here, I want to have a look at it”   Harish said when we were passing in front of a garage.

The 1956 Millicento turned out to be a beauty indeed and I fell for it. Completely done up in Champagne grey it looked in mint condition.

“Harish, do you want to sell this,” I asked him.

“Well, if you like it,”

That was it. We settled the deal in exchange of my three works   just bought by him.

I drove the car back home that night.

My first car in Bangalore.

Yusuf with his Millicento turned sculpture

Yusuf with his Millicento turned sculpture

As a child I loved cars  and one of my hobby was making toy cars out of card board boxes using bottle caps for the wheels. I also used the white back walls of our house to draw large cars using burnt wood and got properly reprimanded by my uncle.

After two years my Willys jeep came.

It was lying in an old garage. Only with a corroded chassis and body. I liberated it from there and began working on it. It took almost an year to give it the present shape. I managed to get an original 18 horsepower Willys engine in great shape from Madras and fitted it.  I would take it to the nearby lake and other spots, sit in it and sketch. I drove it to Ooty and Mysore regularly. I still drive it everyday.

Yusuf riding his willys jeep

Yusuf riding his willys jeep

After Willys jeep  other new  cars followed. My Millicento-eleven hundred- began to take a back seat. I didn’t want to sell it. Finally I decided to convert it into a work of art. I began to conceive different  ideas to make a sculpture –installation- out of the car.   From the outset it is  decided not to change the classic  shape.  Almost a year was spent in experimenting and toying with several ideas. Adaptation of materials was a key factor to be decided. Finally it was copper  as the basic material. A classic metal to suit a classic automobile.  It was only in the beginning of 2001  I actually entered the car into the work shop and began stripping it part by part. By this time I came out with a couple of idea scribbles and made models in thermocol based on these sketches.

By the end of 2001  I was ready to assemble a team of highly skilled workers and craftsmen to create each segments and to solve the  technical problems.   Hundreds of pieces in details were fabricated by hand.  Many had to be rejected when found not fitting well with the general idea and aesthetics.

Yusuf infront of his installation in Bangalore airport

Yusuf infront of his installation in Bangalore airport

The engine and gear box  was dispensed off later  as it is meant to be a stationary exhibit. The head technician  has ensured the smooth moving of the car while towing  or  shifting  from place to place. The final touches were added and the work was completed by the end of June 2004.

The reincarnation of an automobile  as an art installation  is complete.

Millicento as an art piece

Millicento as an art piece

In the nineties I used to drive around a  friend’s  Vokswagen   Beetle in Normandy  in France. Back in India I bought my beetle. It is one of the cars from the last batch built in the VW plant in Germany before terminating the production. Once in a while I take it for a spin. I always love old beauties….

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