A Brief History of Parked Cars with Visual Thinker Chase Ferguson

Imagine a world where a specific object such as a street sign or a particular model of car lit up in your brain and essentially sparkled as you passed it. A journey to a coffee shop is marked by one monumental fire hydrant after another, or by elm tree to elm tree. To contemplate this type of visual thinking is to start to understand the mind of Chase Ferguson and his approach to making his art.

First starting to draw at the age of three, Ferguson has maintained an obsessive preoccupation with specific and obscure objects and has committed his life’s work to memorializing these items. Light bulbs, traffic lights, cars, buses, subway cars, trains, and, most recently, parking meters, are his main focus. Always donning a digital camera around his neck and carrying drawing utensils, Ferguson takes to the New York City streets on foot, documenting what he sees. On family trips to nearby cities, his camera captures no selfies, family portraits or tourist attractions. Instead, he photographs his beloved items over and over again. Parking meters on avenues, in alleyways and in parking lots fill the roll. An occasional traffic light or a 1995 Dodge Ram may appear, only to be followed by more parking meter models.

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Chase Ferguson with His Parking Meters

Born in 1988 in Brooklyn, New York, Ferguson experienced a significant language delay as a young child and early on, exhibited a preference for communicating in pictures. Ferguson understood what people told him, but had a much harder time responding, usually with singular words or with a jumbled sentence. At the age of three, Ferguson was diagnosed with autism. That same year, he began drawing his first images: fire trucks and ambulances, all with radiating lines around their lights to represent flashing. As he progressed in age, Ferguson’s family realized the growing sophistication of his drawings, and asked him to recant his thoughts and experiences through storyboards. Ferguson began mapping out whole scenes of his day on paper.

From an early age Ferguson also displayed a gift for sculpting, having the unique ability to deconstruct objects in his mind. He was able to distinguish the different parts that, when pieced together, made a whole. Ferguson’s first venture into sculpting was with a paper car model. In 1999, at the age of eleven, he experimented by drawing a 2-D template of the vehicle on paper, using no ruler, and then cut out the figure. Next he folded each side into shape, fixing it with clear tape. Recycling old materials, he stuffed his folded vehicles with shredded paper, and used cut up straws to make axils. In 2010, Ferguson began attending Pure Vision Arts, an art studio in Manhattan for gifted artists with developmental disabilities, and over the years has completed thousands of cars, trucks, subway cars, buses and trains, all based on their specific models and brands.

Chase Ferguson working on a series of cars.

Chase Ferguson working on a series of cars.

In the art studio, Chase has expanded his craft to include large-scaled collages of his original Mii characters (a digital avatar from Nintendo’s Wii game console). In each unique piece, he layers drawings of groups of Miis in front of New York City architectural landmarks with drawings and printed photographs of subways, cars, buses, logos and mottos depicted in the background. Twists on common phrases and names such as “Nobody Fights the Chase” also appear in his work, as well as his own delightful characterizations of himself, giving us a glimpse of his lighthearted humor.

In 2011, Ferguson became fascinated with the preservation of single-space parking meters, which were first introduced in New York City on September 19, 1951 at a ceremony in Harlem. His attraction was ignited when, on a walk through his Harlem neighborhood, he witnessed NYC’s Transportation Department removing one of the last of the city’s iconic meters. Travelling on foot and by train (and also with the help of Google Maps street view), Ferguson began documenting the meters that still remained throughout the city. Saddened by the discontinuation and removal of all Manhattan parking meters, he was pleased to find remaining models in The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn. He spends countless hours on the three leading parking meter manufacturing websites, Duncan Solutions, MacKay Meters, and Park-O-Meters, researching their different models and the mechanisms they use. Exhibiting savant-like qualities, he has memorized every model and where they are located throughout the city.

Chase Ferguson, Parking Meters, Mixed Media, 2012-2013

Chase Ferguson, Parking Meters, Mixed Media, 2012-2013

With the underlying traits and skillsets of an engineer, he devotes his time to, as he says, “saving the parking meters” by building their replicas. In 2013, Ferguson taught himself how to construct a life-sized cardboard model of the classic meter. Using no ruler or protractor, Ferguson’s first large-scale sculpture resulted in a fully functional cardboard Duncan Model 70 parking meter complete with movable parts.

Chase Ferguson, Mixed Cars, Mixed Media, 2012-2013

Chase Ferguson, Mixed Cars, Mixed Media, 2012-2013

Ferguson begins making his signature meters by outlining the shape of each surface of the meter. Bending and shaping his recycled corrugated cardboard, he glues each part together to form the three dimensional head of the structure. Next, he opens up the top section with a box knife and secures movable mechanisms made out of pencils and straws inside so the handles can easily turn. Re-sealing the top of the meter head, Ferguson attaches the finished piece onto a cardboard packing tube and a wooden base. A coat of acrylic paint is richly applied and when dried, he completes the piece by outlining its curvatures with a permanent marker. Since 2013, Ferguson has built ninety three Duncan, MacKay and Park-O-Meter models. He has recently expanded his reach to models from twenty-eight American cities and two countries abroad.

Chase Ferguson, Double Parking Meter, Mixed Media, 44-x14-x3

Chase Ferguson, Double Parking Meter, Mixed Media, 44-x14-x3

Ferguson’s collection of parking meters is steeped in nostalgia. When these sculptures are exhibited in unison, they may remind viewers of memorial sites, gravestones or even soldiers. In another light, these obscure objects are intrinsically playful in their design, often standing slightly askew and colored with painted, imperfect coats of acrylic. Whatever the emotion these meters conjure up, his sheer commitment to making them is something to behold.

Ferguson’s tireless devotion to his beloved objects is beginning to receive national and international acclaim. In 2014, he was the featured artist in Transit on the Spectrum: The Art of Pure Vision at Brooklyn’s New York Transit Museum where he got the chance to speak with MTA Transit President Carmen Bianco. In 2014 and 2015 his parking meters and paper vehicles were included in The Outsider Art Fair in New York City. In 2014 his work was included in the group exhibition Any Colour You Like at Brooklyn’s Weird Days and at Public Access: Selections from Pure Vision Arts at the Gallery at Ace Hotel New York in New York City. In 2012, Ferguson’s work was included in Pure Folk at the American Folk Art Museum. Most recently, MadMusée, a museum in Belgium representing work by Outsider and Self-taught artists, acquired a selection of Ferguson’s art for their permanent collection.