Highways provide great inspiration for the world of art

It’s almost a ritual. Packing the suitcases, buying some snacks, loading the car and taking to the open road. A trip by highway is a real experience. It has inspired artists and creators forever –or for at least as long as there have been roads on which to travel.

The highway as inspiration

Of course the relationship between art and roads can be broken down into a number of different elements. There is that trip that changes a life, like the road trip across Spain taken by Alonso Quijano and Sancho Panza in Don Quijote, or the lively protagonists of the animated film Cars, or the psychedelic journey of Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Almost all the elements around this travel experience can form the basis for a work of  art.


In the novel by Cormac McCarthy The Road (and in the film based upon it), the highway becomes one more character in this dystopian setting. For his part, the American photographer (and former road manager for the Beatles) Ed Freeman has created a whole series inspired by the abandoned buildings along the celebrated Route 66 in the United States. The route itself provides the plot line of his photographic work.


The car itself takes on a special importance in the Quentin Tarantino film Death Proof, where a former movie stunt man adapts his car for nefarious ends. 

Cars (especially old ones) are a constant source of inspiration for many of the present-day photographic movements that take place on Instagram. Through hashtags like #classicarlover or #vintagecarsdaily, fans of photography and cars have found a platform on which to share  their photos, a community that celebrates ground-level angles and interiors of leather and wood.


Who can forget the movie Little Miss Sunshine, in which a dysfunctional family crosses the United States on the way to a beauty contest in which the young daughter wants to participate? Or the endless highways between American coasts traversed by some members of the Beat Generation in the novel On the Road, by Jack Kerouak.

The road as a means of expression

Urban art –in addition to the paint that has been applied to roads, city furniture and Metro cars– has always had a special weakness for highways. From the 3-D paintings of Joe Hill, in which you lean over a dizzying waterfall in the middle of the pavement, to the geometric compositions of the German artist 1001 that decorated an abandoned highway in Paris or the paint applied to actual landscape in what is known as Land Art, highway art shows that even the roads themselves can serve as a canvas.

Highways in contemporary art

Roads continue to inspire artists today. For example in last year’s Habitáculos y testigos exhibit at the Feria de Artes Contemporáneas Bellas Artes FACBA 21, in Granada, in which artist Timsam Harding put the focus on highways.

For Harding, highways are “interconnecting places where speed and time act on our very perception of what it means to drive” and where we travel aboard a car, “a space from which we observe the landscape outside us.”

This artist from Málaga based his show on the perceptions that road travel produces on travelers and on the way we relate to highways and their different elements.

Inside a vehicle that travels along a highway, “we are transformed into passive and thus relaxed observers, so that our sense of reality and the intimate experience of driving, become abstract.”

And depending on our perception, the highway is transformed. “The highway is perceived a ‘non place,’ a transit route in which the vehicle is understood as a tool with which to propose games of analysis, both external and internal, of the sensation of driving and of the surroundings framed by the window.”