Plenty of Trunk Space
Artist Gregory Beylerian Has a Herd Mentality

By Michael T. Jarvis

LOS ANGELES, CA - When Gregory Beylerian's uncle gave him a 1968 Volvo four years ago, he initially dreamed of turning it into a race car. Then, a couple of years later, he saw the elephants. "They were in the trash near a toy factory in downtown L.A.," Beylerian says. "I thought, 'Rescue and recycle.'" An artist whose murals adorn the walls of the Krikorian Monrovia Cinema, Beylerian attached his find - about 100 stuffed pachyderms - to the car with industrial-strength adhesive, added graffiti-style decorative paint, and his life has been a circus ever since.

To ride shotgun with Beylerian is to know firsthand what it means to stop traffic. As the bloblike apparition floats down Melrose Avenue, an enthusiastic blond in a tube top yells out: "Love your car!" "Near a school, the kids go wild," says Beylerian, who has to stop people from pulling elephants off the vehicle. "Gang members love it. Hindus love it. It's a temporary sharing of space" Beylerian has even set up an online forum (www.loveandtruth.com) revolving around the car. "People get a spark and you can see it in their eyes," he says. "I get a lot of peace signs. It has become a social experiment."

The interior of Beylerian's contribution to "art cars" is festooned with graffiti, poems and signatures from passengers, and it features a dashboard altar covered with plastic dolls, toys tchotchkes, religious icons and cartoon characters. A string of Tibetan bells jingles when the car rounds a corner. "My grandmother gave me a plastic Virgin Mary, and it snowballed," says the artist, who has degrees in design, photography and philosophy and does commissioned portraits using a hybrid of techniques. The car continues to be a work in progress. "Just today a neighborhood kid, Alex, came over, and we were gluing toys into the inside."

Beylerian, 33, has an almost karmic connection with the traveling artwork. "My grandmother bought it two weeks before I was born," he recalls. "My uncle gave me the car in 1997 on the exact date that my grandmother registered it 28 years earlier. It's synchronicity." He calls the Volvo "Medz Mobile" in honor of his late grandmother. "Her name was Marie, but I called her Medz Mobile, which means grand mobile in Armenian. She is a deep part of my life even though she passed on. She supported my journey in the arts." But what exactly is Beylerian's message? "That's the question I get most,' he says. (The next most frequently asked question: "Are you Republican?" Beylerian is not.) As for the meaning of it all, the Fairfax District resident says, "As Henry David Thoreau put it so well: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life that you've imagined. The message is simple: To have the courage to follow your heart."

Los Angeles Times Magazine

May 5, 2002