Southern California Car Culture Celebrated at Latest Art Exhibit

Tom Fritz Hero Image

World-renowned artist showcased in dynamic exhibition at Malibu City Hall

Malibu City Hall was spirited to life on Saturday, Dec. 11, as collectible car enthusiasts filled the parking lot with exotic vehicles to take in an inspired art opening.

Inside, the staid white walls of City Hall were transformed into Malibu City Gallery, a welcome sight for a site that’s been fairly dormant since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The exhibit features the extraordinary work of world-renowned painter Tom Fritz who specializes in depicting motor cars, hot rods, and motorcycles. His detailed paintings featuring vivid colors bring drag races and motorsports alive with action-filled images. “You can hear the sounds of the engines as you walk around,” observed one attendee. Fritz captures in paint compelling images of muscle cars and roadsters in action. His work seems to put the viewer right in the middle of the energy and chaos of an illicit drag race or even a sanctioned Formula 1 championship.

The San Fernando Valley raised Fritz grew up amid the pervasive Southern California car culture of the 1960s and ’70s where hot rods, speedsters, stock cars, and woodies were the grownup toys of boys’ dreams. The fine artist now paints these racers, vintage cars, and motorcycles too as an official Harley Davidson artist. He won countless awards for his artistry and is especially proud to have been chosen by the United States Postal Service to paint a muscle car series of stamps in 2013. A new series of pony car stamps will be issued in 2022. It’s a far leap for the man who described himself as a one-time lawnmower mechanic to a first-class artist with collectors worldwide.

Fritz first picked up a paintbrush at age seven. When his mother brought home a paint-by-number kit, he said he “fell in love with the smell of the paints.” It wasn’t long before he got bored with the image he was supposed to copy and soon destroyed it to create his own. He was self-taught until he honed his skills at Cal State Northridge. 

After graduating in 1980, he became a staff artist for the defense industry and aerospace companies. In the early 1990s, he explained that he started painting the “source of imagery I’m using today because I was getting bored working for the bomb factories. I was painting aircraft, naval vessels, helicopters, marines, and soldiers.” With the encouragement of his wife, Molly, Fritz started painting what he loved. “I’ve been around motorcycles, hotrods, and muscle cars my whole life. I paint what I enjoy.”

Some vintage car owners who enjoy Fritz’s work drove their collectibles to the show. The parking lot was filled with classic cars from the 1940s through 60s, also including a 1930’s era Duesenberg. The oil painter has brought all these cars and more to life with impressionistic brushwork on display, although what you’ll see in Malibu are Gicle’e prints. 

“I try to get all the emotion, excitement, and drama and the danger. That’s what I’m addressing here,” he shared. 

Fritz has quiet moments, too, in his paintings. “Just standing around cars. That would have been me in the mid-70s standing around a Camaro in a parking lot. The stories are coming from my life experience and things I’ve seen at the racetrack.”

This was the first art reception at City Hall and its Malibu City Gallery since March of 2020.

“We couldn’t give the love [a reception] to the artists in the last group showing “Eye to the Future,” which closed last month, said Arts Commissioner Fireball Tim Lawrence, who helped mount the show along with Arts Commissioner Julia Holland. “We’re trying to brand Malibu City Gallery. We have a functioning gallery. I’m happy people are here,” Holland added.

“His stuff is the best,” commented artist and actor Tony Dow of “Leave it to Beaver” fame. “He has a good eye for color, and his brushwork is really good.”

The Tom Fritz “Deliver Me” exhibit closes on Jan. 20.