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Once homeless and living in his car, Belleair artist now paints car portraits

Jim Rivoli slept in his 1971 Dodge Dart for a summer in Vermont after losing his apartment. Years later, the successful artist finds joy in painting classic cars.
Credit: Bobby Lewis

BELLEAIR BLUFFS, Fla. — If he had got his way, Jim Rivoli would have been cruising down the road in a fancy ride long ago.

"I’ve never owned really a classic car except for that '65 Corvair of mine," he said, recalling his first car out of high school.

He may never have owned his favorite classic cars but the Belleair Bluffs artist sure has painted his fair share of gems.

"I’d like to think when somebody has one of my paintings hanging in their house that they look at it and say ‘hmm that’s nice. That makes me feel good.'” said Rivoli, 71.

Rivoli, 71, moved to Florida two years ago after spending years up north. He brought with him a passion for art –specifically painting. He’d been recreating scenic photography with acrylic paints for years.

Cars were a new idea.

"I love the reflection," he said from his home studio, surrounded by colored canvases.

He’s done over two dozen car paintings in two years. Each one takes about three weeks to complete. 

Rivoli will snap photos of cars that catch his attention while out driving. He takes them home and analyzes the shadows and angles. Mostly, he looks for cars with shine. Those are the ones that provide the best chance for reflections in bumpers and hubcaps.

Credit: Bobby Lewis

"There are miles of paintings that I still want to do. I just have to run into the right car," said Rivoli.

Art has been a positive in his life. He spent 28 years as a musician. He played bass guitar and even opened for Aerosmith. He then tried stained glass. That business failed and he wound up homeless for a summer in Vermont. He slept in his car.

"It was a '71 Dodge Dart," he said. "I had a taste of what it was like to have no place to go. Now I’m living in my car, you know?"

Now, he reflects on his life painting classic cars.

“I’m satisfied with what I’m up to."

You can see some of Jim’s work Friday night, July 23, at the Beach Art Center in Indian Rocks. An art show will be held there from 6 to 8 p.m. One of his paintings of a motorcycle engine will be part of a larger display.

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