What do art, cars and antique rugs have in common? More than meets the eye, according to Mikeal Kennedy, who turned his vintage Mercedes Benz 300 SD into a piece of art. Kennedy is not only the founder and owner of King Kennedy Rugs – the Los Angeles based company which offers a curated collection of unique carpets – but also a passionate vintage car lover.
The Mercedes – he has owned for 14 years now – recently went viral after he completed the upholstering of its interiors with 100 year-old rug scraps from his collection: a customization work he had dreamed of for a decade. The result was mind-blowing and (not surprisingly) broke the internet.
«Everything can be art if you see it and treat it that way». Starting from this simple yet significant assumption, King Kennedy and I had a conversation about topics I wouldn’t have imagined would be so well connected: rugs, art and cars.
Mikeal’s business became popular on Instagram when he started posting some of the rugs he had purchased from a NY dealer who was retiring at the time. «People went crazy for them» he says. From that moment the business took off quite naturally, and he transferred the artistry he had developed as a fashion photographer into his rug-collection project: «I’m not dealing antiques or furniture, I am dealing pieces of art. To me, rugs are essentially paintings you put on the floor. It’s much more about the art piece than the actual furniture piece.»
Explaining his philosophy, Mikael mentions a quote he keeps pinned to the wall of his studio, from LA-based artist Robert Irwin: «Folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use every day, and you give it overlays of your life. Folk art in the current period of time would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle.» If everything can be art, rugs are too. And — as his dedication to the Mercedes work shows – the same goes for cars.
In fact, that car was the same he had used to travel around the country before starting his business; later on, the same vehicle helped him deliver the rugs to his first customers: «I used to roll them out on the hood of the car, that was used as a display». Mikael’s Mercedes had such a profound meaning that he eventually decided to turn it into an insane piece of art, that actually expresses his approach to life, art, and cars. «My early art was based on driving back across the country: I developed a sort of Kerouac-nomadic lifestyle. So much of my work is based on the American road trip concept and connected feelings of freedom and wandering. Cars signify so much freedom».
Despite approaching life (and business) as an artist, Kennedy apparently confronts the field as an outsider: «I have a really big problem with an over-intellectualised, over-educated version of art. I want art for everybody. And that’s just how I view this car or cars in general, too: as a way to make art out of something ordinary. Everything in your life should be a sculpture. Everything you buy should be a sculpture, your house should be a sculpture, your body should be a sculpture, every single part of your life has the potential to be a piece of art, if you view it that way.»
This uplifting, ultra-democratic concept of art also comes out when he describes a casual encounter with some members of the LA lowriders community, that happened a few weeks ago.
Lowriders are broad and storied communities rooted in Mexican-American car customization culture. Over the decades, practices like painting, upholstering or installing hydraulic switches (to make car beds “dance”), have become a way of expressing identity, and resisting a homogenizing society that too often represses creativity.
Lowriders see and treat their vehicles as works of art, and it’s no surprise to hear that Mikael felt an immediate connection with his neighbors, when they happened to park right next to his shop on a sunny day. «I walked out and realized that the entire crew were all Nissan custom-trucks».
Kennedy had previously bought a number of Afghan car mats with company logos hand-woven on them, from his dealer in Islamabad. A lot of them were Nissan’s, which is not the type of vehicle that Mikeal’s average client would buy. But in Southern California Nissan-specific lowriders culture is huge. And that’s how he ended up talking for hours with his new friends and eventually giving away all the Nissan rugs he had, because they just «looked too cool inside their trucks».
«I very much understand lowriders’ car customization culture. They are passionate people, building and rebuilding their cars, with such a deep love for their trucks».
Love is indeed the common ground Kennedy shares with the lowrider culture: before completing the Mercedes, he had spent years fixing parts, repairing, re-doing the upholstering and, just simply, caring for his car. The Nissan mats thus ended up in the trucks interiors so naturally, «as they already belonged there».