He was a fin man. That was Tom Kennedy's specialty when it came to his pioneering work in the art-car movement: dolphins, sharks, whales--Kennedy did all of them.
After he succumbed to an unforgiving riptide while bodysurfing near San Francisco's Ocean Beach on April 12 at 48, his close friend Harrod Blank remarked that Kennedy's works were, "ironically, inspired by the sea." So it was true to form that Kennedy dubbed his first creation--originally a Nissan Sentra--Ripper the Friendly Shark. He equipped the working car with a toothy jaw and a tail that swished.
Despite having worked for more than 10 solid years in circulation at the Houston Chronicle, Kennedy was lured away by a love of sculpture that he had developed as an undergraduate at the University of Houston and was further drawn in by a local art-car parade in the early '90s. And though he was unable to get a prototype of Ripper into the procession, the encounter was the last bit of inspiration he needed.
Kennedy quit his job and headed to the Bay Area. Using his friendly shark as a mobile billboard, he earned a number of commissioned projects, creating everything from the "Topsy-Turvy" school bus for Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream (made to protest military spending) to a giant whale for Nevada's 2001 Burning Man festival. All the while, he continued to drive his trusty Ripper up and down the roads of Northern California with sharklike restlessness.