“I’m just me,” Charbonneau says as he replaces a carburetor and fixes an oil leak on a 1961 Mercedes 190 SL inside his Arroyo Chamiso Corridor shop.
A veteran in the classic car repair and restoration field since 1980, Charbonneau is about to take on an entirely different title—that of gallerist—when he opens his shop doors this Friday with The Art of the Car, an automotive-themed art exhibit showcasing works by Allan Price.
The garage owner is dressed head to toe in denim, he’s soft-spoken, and keeps his answers short and to the point. He signals to a corner of the shop that’s been painted a neutral color and outfitted with track lighting.
“This was pretty much my friend James’ idea,” Charbonneau says of the fledgling art space. James is Santa Fe music scene fixture James T Baker, who is having an opening of his own at Santa Fe Classic Cars on Friday, Sept. 27, to coincide with the Santa Fe Concorso.
“We look at these automobiles as art,” the old-timey blues singer says. Baker adds that local options are limited when it comes to exhibiting non-Southwest-themed art, and so creating a space rather than procuring one seemed like a natural fit. “Only in Santa Fe can a garage be a gallery,” he says with a chuckle.
Baker says the concept evolved after witnessing the interest by the Museum of Modern Art to collect and exhibit automobiles as examples of functional design.
“This cemented the idea that the styling of classic cars could be considered art in its highest sense,” Baker says on the topic, before waxing poetic. “We are dismayed that the modern 21st century automobile is strictly utilitarian and considered such by the owners of these vehicles,” he says. “So we look to the past and celebrate the beauty, style and art of the old cars.”
Due to the nature of his business, Baker considers Charbonneau an artist in his own right.
“I just like to get everything right the first time, so the customers don’t have to bring things back,” Charbonneau says of his approach as he sets a freshly painted generator and steering box to dry in his workspace. “If a car looks like that,” he says, looking at the Benz, “I like to keep it looking nice—and if that takes throwing a little bit of paint onto parts after I’ve repaired them, that’s what I’ll do.”
Charbonneau takes his reincarnation in stride. “I was a little lukewarm at first,” he says. “But then I warmed up to the idea.”
“I like it,” he says of Baker and Price’s art, choosing not to elaborate. “I’ve taken a few photos of my own,” Charbonneau adds, though he admits he’s in no rush to display them. And even though this latest venture has the potential to open new doors, he remains grounded and doesn’t lose sight of his true passion.
“Cars are it for me,” he says. “That’s it. Cars are my whole life, they always have been.”
Charbonneau clarifies that his space is “a garage first, a gallery second.” With the new iteration under way, he hopes the shop hosts a bevy of auto-centric art shows in the future.
“I don’t like traditional Santa Fe art,” he admits.
Charbonneau is hopeful his effort will kick-start a new age in the local art landscape. “A lot of the galleries here show similar types of stuff,” he says. “We’re trying to open people’s minds to different kinds of art.”
Until now, the closest Santa Fe Classic Cars came to exhibiting artwork was a lone framed print hanging in a corner of the shop. It’s by James Farrah—an artist friend of Charbonneau’s from Arizona—and depicts a Ferrari and a Shelby Cobra.
“In the future, I’m gonna try and get him to send up or bring some more of his work,” Charbonneau says.
Next to the piece hangs a calendar featuring a lady in a bejeweled thong. “If I could get her to come by,” he says, “that would be perfect!”
4-7 pm Friday, Sept. 20. Free.
Santa Fe Classic Cars
1091 Siler Road, Ste. B14