WORKING IN A STYLE HE CALLS “TASTEFUL OVERKILL,” Albuquerque native Rob Vanderslice has been painting lowrider cars in New Mexico for nearly 40 years. Vanderslice, who opened his first shop at 18 years old, uses masking tape, translucent candy paint, and metallic flakes to cover cars with brilliant color, often accented with iridescent sparkle that shifts hypnotically across intricate underlaid designs. But he is the first to admit that custom car painting has changed dramatically in the past few decades. “In the beginning, my customers were almost all drug dealers,” he says matter-of-factly. “The culture around lowriders used to revolve around drugs and violence.” During what he calls the “gangster madness” of the car scene, Vanderslice became addicted to methamphetamine. He has been sober for more than a decade. Similarly, lowrider art and the people who love it have changed significantly since those darker days. “There have been exhibits in museums like the Harwood, in Taos, which is pretty exciting,” says Vanderslice, who now teaches others the tricks of the lowrider art trade.

AUTO BODY WORK is in my blood. My dad worked on cars and so did my grandpa, so I grew up comfortable in garages. I was always doodling flames and car shapes in my notebooks.

LOWRIDER CULTURE isn’t just about cars. It’s about respecting artistic traditions that go back generations in New Mexico.

I OPENED INNOVATIVE STYLES, my first auto paint shop, in 1988. Back then, we were still all coming up with the designs you see today, a lot of the patterning and layered colors.

LOWRIDER ART’S FOREFATHERS were always innovating and advancing the art form.

THERE ARE NO RULES OR LIMITATIONS. It’s not like doing paintwork on a hot rod, where you’re doing flames the same way everyone else does flames.

THE GOOD FRIDAY CRUISE, in Española, is a special opportunity to check out what makes people so crazy about lowriders. There will be tons of classic cars, a hydraulics show, and the streets will be crawling with lowriders from all over.

I’VE BEEN CLEAN for 13 years.

WHEN I WAS ADDICTED to meth, there were times I had no running water, no electricity. My home life was a wreck.

AFTER MY THIRD FELONY, I figured I needed to give up working on cars because I felt like my work was too tied into drugs. I turned to religion, to Jesus, and discovered I didn’t need to change my job, I needed to change myself.

EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT of what I do is not fun. The process of twisting tape and layering candy paint is time-consuming and stressful because you have to be incredibly focused and precise to avoid mistakes.

IT’S ALL WORTH IT, though, when you remove all that tape and see the design you had in your mind’s eye jumping out at you.

THE DUKE CITY YOUTH LOWRIDER BIKE CLUB is important to me because there are a lot of young people in Albuquerque who need guidance and help. They need passion. The club puts at-risk young people into after-school workshops where they’re given a bike and taught how to trick it out.

THE CLUB COMES TOGETHER thanks to volunteer artists and cops. It’s awesome to see law enforcement interacting with the kids and with us painters.

THE ALBUQUERQUE ISOTOPES asked me to help create a commemorative bobblehead for one of their Mariachi games last year. The first 3,000 spectators all got one: a ’59 Impala blasted with pinstripes, driven by a little skeleton dressed like a mariachi musician.

PEOPLE LOVED IT so much, we are going to make another one this season.

TEACHING what I’ve learned is the best way to give back. I travel all over the country. It’s my goal to share this art form with anybody who wants to learn it.

Read more: Lowriding through Chimayó is a sacred tradition.


Follow Rob Vanderslice on Instagram (@robvanderslice), and purchase one of his brilliantly painted crosses or state cutouts at