The Story Behind Nantucket's Most Colorful Car

Jason Graziadei •

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Nantucket artist Matty Oates' car - a 1994 Cadillac Fleetwood that he calls “The Land Shark” - is a streak of color as it drives through Nantucket’s otherwise gray streetscapes.

The Land Shark brings joy to island children as it passes by, erupting with bubbles as Oates pulls on the string trigger which activates his handmade “Acme Atomic Bubble Blaster” fixed to the roof.

But, Oates says, that’s not truly who the Land Shark is for.

“I’m glad the kids really like it and it’s fun, but it’s kind of for the adults,” he said with a laugh. “People walk around here and drive around with scowls and I say ‘It’s a beautiful day’!”

For the past eight years, Oates has been adding to the Land Shark and tweaking its appearance into the vibrant, rolling expression of the artwork that he is known for around the island. In the beginning, Oates simply screwed an old Spam can filled with bubble solution to the door and shot bubbles out the window.

“And it’s evolved into this,” he said. “It’s got bigger and bigger and bigger. More fun, more fun, more fun.”

The car is filled with cultural expressions from his youth - such as references to the Roadrunner cartoons that he loved - as well as relics and refuse he’s picked up around the island, including a portion of the Lobster Trap’s old lobster tank that now sits on its roof.

“Every time I go to the Take It Or Leave It, I get something for the dashboard,” he said. “So it just keeps going and going.”

The Land Shark was actually a gift to Oates that he received after recovering from a significant illness.

“I got real sick, I went blind for a year, and when I got my eyesight back, this artist woman I knew - when I finally was able to convince the state of Massachusetts to get my driver’s license back - she gave this to me as a present,” he said. “It was her father’s and her father couldn’t drive anymore. She didn’t envision herself driving around in a ‘94 Cadillac, so she was happy to find someone who was going to love it.”

Now Oates is just working on making the bubbles that erupt from the roof of the Land Shark even bigger.

“I have a thing about bubbles,” he said. “They’re a fixed sphere. The pressure inside a bubble is equal to the pressure outside a bubble. So it’s in balance with its environment. And it has every color of the spectrum in it. It’s a swirl of colors. That’s what I want to do with my art: get to that level of perfection.

“The art that I do and this car, it’s all just getting it out. You can’t keep it inside. You’ve got to get it out.”

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Photo by Charity Grace Mofsen
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