Matazo Kayama’s BMW Art Car

Back in July I went along to an exhibition called Art Drive! BMW Art Car Collection, 1975 – 2010 organised by the ICA and held at the Great Eastern Street car Park in Shoreditch. To be honest, I thought it was going to be a very blokey thing, and I didn’t think I would find an exhibition of BMW cars painted by famous artists all that interesting, but I went along anyway because I was curious.

I was attracted to the exhibition because one of the cars was painted by Japanese artist Matazo Kayama. Although Kayama is quite famous, I had not heard about him before. At the exhibition I was given a free BMW Classic Live Special magazine, and the following text is taken directly from there:

Looking at a cross-section of Matazo Kayama’s works is like travelling through time in Japanese art. Even after his death, he is still regarded as one of the best-known artists in Japan and a multi-talented individual. His artistic spectrum ranged from traditional Japanese painting and airbrush and ink techniques, right through to designing jumbo jets and luxury liners. In 1990, the Japanese artist became the first Asian to paint a BMW Art car. The model is the ninth in the series.

Kayama (1927 – 2004) studied painting and traditional Japanese handicraft, followed by Nihonga techniques at Tokyo University of Fine Art. In the difficult post-war period, Kayama painted mainly innocuous animal motifs. Kayama was constantly on the look-out for new techniques and styles. Tirelessly he tested, perfected and then started from scratch with new or even traditional methods. At the end of the 1950s, he concentrated on traditional Japanese painting styles, only to find he felt restricted by them. One decade later, Kayama switched his focus to nude painting. In 1973, he was awarded the major prize for Japanese art. He painted the picture “Snow, Moon and Cherry Blossoms” for the National Museum of Modern Arts in Tokyo, which would later influence the design of his Art Car. The artist made several trips to China to perfect his techniques with ink. He taught and learned in equal measure during these trips and returned to Japan only to switch his focus to jewelry and china design. In 1997 and 2003, Kayama received an award for services to cultural development in Japan.

Kayama was commissioned to design a BMW Art Car at the end of the 1980s. “I wanted to combine an element of traditional Japanese art forms with an extremely modern art object. A lot of thought went into achieving this goal,” stated Kayama. Finally, he drafted a design for the BMW 535i and tried out the required techniques. His design was based on one of his earlier works and involved covering the car with stylised snow until the entire body glistened. Kayama then sprayed the BMW using the airbrush technique. He used powerful, deep blue oil paints, which he sprayed in rivers onto the silver paint in several places. The snowflakes remained clearly visible through  the oil paint. The rivers run in wild, irregular forms, giving the vehicle a sense of movement and life, while at the same time creating an exciting contrast to the silver-white snowflakes. They run centrally on the hood and the roof and widen towards the rear as though a strong wind has brushed them over the car. In the middle of these oil landscapes, Kayama applied fine pieces of silver, gold and aluminium foil, which he had previously cut into squares and dots using the Japanese techniques “Kirigane” (metal cutting) and “Arare” (foil printing). Now the car glistens and glimmers from the depths of the water as though it were holding all the stars in the universe. “The result is better than I expected,” stated Kayama. “But the attractive basic form of the car made my work completely superfluous. Only after I had attached the BMW emblem did I feel like my work was truly complete. I was filled with excitement like a small child.”

Art Drive!

Art Drive!

If you’re interested in the other cars, you can check out my full collection of photos on Flickr. For more information about BMW Art Cars, please visit, where you can also see some more photos of Kayama’s gorgeous car.

Matazo Kayama
Image from:

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