Alison Mosshart Shows Us the Secret of the Opera Window

By
Photography Alison Mosshart

Published July 11, 2019

“People love cars,” says Alison Mosshart. “They think that they’re beautiful, or that they symbolize adventure. Mystery, disaster, whatever. You can form a lot of opinions by looking at someone’s car.” The bleach-blonde artist, musician, and daughter of a used car dealer has spent the last 26 years on the road. As lead vocalist for The Kills and The Dead Weather, Mosshart has made music on turbo charge; she is a leather-jacketed darling with adrenaline to spare. Following her 2018 Los Angeles art show “Los Trachas”, which featured several paintings detailing her fascination with the iconography of the American automobile, Mosshart has compiled her painting, collage, photography, and writing into  Car Ma—a book punctuated with the same electric pulse as her rock music.

Mosshart’s first tour came early in her career as a musician—when she was only 14 years old. Her interest in photographing cars goes back to the early days of her music. Says Mosshart, “When I was in my first band, on tour, the things I was taking photos of, it was crashed cars, and the tour van all covered in toilet paper, and you know, cool cars that I saw on the side of the road, and cars where tornadoes were about to come. It was a constant obsession, without thinking about it.” Part road diary, part automobile love song, part personal history, Car Ma dives deep into the soul of the American drive. 

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“This is in Miami. I was showing artwork at Art Basel for the first time in my life, and it was two in the morning or something. [Miles and I] were walking back to the hotel, and in the median this car was upside down. Every bit of content from it was strewn all over the sidewalk. Everything. It was kind of like a gigantic exploded woman’s handbag. And it was so beautiful, because Miami is just kind of ridiculous: there’s pink lights and green lights and blue lights and ridiculous lights for no reason. It all looks like a painting already.

The girl that was driving it, she was standing there talking to the cops, and there was an ambulance, but everyone was fine. It was just this ridiculous scene in the middle of the night. I don’t even know how she flipped her car. I mean, Miles was like, ‘That’s definitely part of Art Basel.’ I was like, ‘No, it’s not! It’s definitely a drunk girl that flipped her car. Look at her, look at the entire conversation, this is not an art piece. It looks better than most of the art pieces we just saw, but it’s not an installation, it’s a car accident.” 

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“I don’t know anything about it, other than it was always parked at the YMCA parking lot in Nashville. It was just so out of place, you know?”

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“This is my friend, Alice Dellal. She’s a model, and I’d hired her to do a job for me where I designed a clothing line, which has never come out. This is at Lyman’s Auto Body Shop, in Los Angeles. The nicest dudes ever work there, and before the shoot I went around and scouted all these auto body places, because I think that they look fantastic; there’s just shitty old cars, half in disrepair, tarps and muscle cars, things without wheels, and dents. To me, it’s just absolutely beautiful.”

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“There was a Christmas where I decided to make a ton of these for my family. They were very involved collage pieces. This one went to my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Dean. They really love golf and ’50s cars and stuff. It’s actually a big wooden tray. I made about 12 of these, and they’re all totally different.”

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“These are notes from when I was painting at a place called Hedgebrook in Washington State. I was living there for nine days in the middle of nowhere, painting a show. These notes became art pieces in themselves. The Daughter of a Used Car Dealer ended up being one of the big paintings in my show, and it was like postcards from all over the country. 

Every summer we would drive for three months. My dad would buy a van, and he would pile us all in it when I was little. The second I got out of school, we were basically leaving the next day, and I would be so excited, I would think I was going to throw up. I would pack everything and just get ready for this adventure, like “Who am I going to meet? What am I going to see?” I loved waking up somewhere new everyday. I loved always heading somewhere. And it didn’t really quite matter if we ever got there. It wasn’t about that. It was about moving. He really did give me that curiosity, and that thing about wanting to go everywhere. He definitely gave me this sort of rootlessness about myself, which is why I hate being anywhere longer than two weeks.”

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“This is the last show I did called Los Trachas, in Los Angeles. I painted in LA for LA, so there was lots of cars. The opera window is a lost art, nobody puts those in cars anymore. Those are just the weirdest feature. If you ever see a car with an opera window, stop and just think about it. It’s so strange. You just think, ‘Okay, there’s someone in the backseat looking out this tiny little oval window, at what?’ I think about someone sitting in a box or seeing a concert or seeing something from quite far away, sort of removed, but there being some kind of elegance, or fascination to it. I don’t know, I like it. I always do this with cars and engines and things that take gasoline. I apply them to the heart.”

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“That’s Charlie Sexton. He’s a guitar player, he plays with Bob Dylan, and he’s a good friend of mine. We did some songs together for this charity. We were rehearsing in his backseat. I took that photo because he’s a pretty good looking dude. He’s very photogenic.”

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“That’s the Woody Creek Tavern, where Hunter S. Thompson used to drink and hang out, in Aspen, Colorado. The little photo with the one empty chair in the corner, that was Hunter’s chair. Of course while I’m sitting there, the most badass car show was on television, so I started photographing the television. The detail of tire, and the headlights, for me, that went so well with the picture of my brother. He must be eight in that picture. His eye is so extreme, and it’s like the tire, the headlight, and Becca. She was living next door, and she was Matthew’s age, my brother’s age. Those two were friends, and when I first started learning how to take photos, my mom gave me a camera. It was a film camera, and I was learning how to develop and print and everything, so I used these two kids as my models all the time. And so these are really old photos, I took when I was maybe 13 or 14.”

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“The first one is from the town I grew up in, Vero Beach. I was just driving and I took that photo out the window, which I think is fucking cool. That mud truck was Christmas in Florida. We were going to visit out family, and we were driving, and that’s my brother holding my niece when she was only six or seven months old. Six maybe, four, I don’t know. She was tiny. This is just where we’re from.”