Keith Collins’ car-centric tapestries at Mullin Automotive Museum

Artist Keith Collins with Merle Mullin and mosaic depicting her husband and museum founder Peter Mullin. (Photo by Alex Wilson)

Ever since growing up around Los Angeles in the 1960s, Keith Collins has admired the beauty of automobiles.

When he was a kid, Collins enjoyed building plastic model cars, but when it came to painting them, he ignored the picture on the box.

“I would never follow the instructions. I’d always paint them the way I wanted to paint them,” Collins said of his earliest artistic inspiration. “I also did mosaics, a lot of arts and crafts. I loved creating dioramas in my backyard, digging holes and putting dinosaurs in. Everything I look back on was creative. So I can’t tell you how I got into art, it was a gift from God.”

For more than 50 years Collins has been creating art, with much of it related to classic cars. His mediums include oil paint and assemblages using a variety of materials such as wood, but some of his biggest and most dramatic works are mosaic tapestries made from a material few would associate with art: pieces of carpet from a wide palette of colors and textures.

Collins has worked for years at the Brewery Artist Loft Complex in downtown Los Angeles, where he’s collected a wide assortment of carpet dating back to the 1970s. This includes plush carpets designed for luxury homes as well as industrial carpeting with unique textures.

“I select for height variations and color. Most of the time they are very unique, cushiony materials, the turquoise and the greens,” he said.

Collins is a big hit among car collectors and he sells his works at car shows including one known for attracting some of the finest automobiles on earth, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It was about 25 years ago when Collins met world famous car collector Peter Mullin — the founder of Oxnard’s Mullin Automotive Museum — at a car show at Beverly Hills High School. Collins said the classic French car Mullin drove there had a dead battery and he helped push start it, which resulted in a lifelong friendship.

So it was with extreme pride when Collins unveiled his first-ever solo art exhibition on April 20 at the Mullin Auto Museum, which showcases a rotating collection of the oldest and most sought after French cars dating from the invention of the automobile through the Art Deco period and beyond.

“My appreciation level is just so high. It’s an emotional experience. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen these pieces lined up in one setting,” he said of the exhibit titled ArTexture.

Artworks on display include a painting depicting Mullin’s 1935 Voisin Type C25 Aerodyne which won “Best of Show” at the 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, as well as intricate tapestries of a 1939 Delahaye Type 165 and a 1935 Hispano-Suiza J12 Cabriolet.

Collins said French cars from before World War II are among the most beautiful ever built and are more like sculptures that just happen to move people. “The perfect curves, the perfect lines, the perfect color combinations, the silhouettes, the workmanship, the louvers, the hood ornaments . . . There’s not a part that doesn’t say art.”

Mullin Automotive Museum, 1421 Emerson Ave., Oxnard, 805-385-5400,