Seeing Art Differently? Look at that Chicken Bus!

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In Guatemala, old school buses from the U.S. are repurposed as the main form of public transportation in rural areas. Often times, live animals are accompanying the passengers in their travels; this is why they are referred to as “chicken buses”.

When we were talking about street art in class, I was reminded of how awestruck I was as a visitor to Guatemala to see these brightly colored buses travelling through the mountains. Unlike street art, which is temporary, these buses are painstakingly painted so that their colors will last for decades. Sure, in the United States we see lots of colorful advertising on our city buses in the states, but that is different. These were painted for the sole purpose of decoration. That is ART!
Here is a link that takes you to Paul Guyer’s acrylic rendition of the explosion of color on an old school bus.  I think that Paul Guyer does a great job in his painting of capturing the feeling of these buses.
Keep in mind I am not talking about graffiti here, these buses are elaborately and skillfully painted in primary and secondary colors that are very noticeable because of their intensity and saturation. The contrast between the colors used is very pronounced which seems to make the bus jump out at you (advance) and implies movement. The contrast of the brightly painted school bus against the neutral browns and greens of the landscape make the buses even more noticeable. If color is used to evoke emotions, then the full range of human emotions are riding through Guatemala on the side of an old school bus. Many times the bus has a name as if it has taken on a life it’s own.
Born and raised in the Midwest my eyes had never seen this type of Art. My colleagues who live in Guatemala didn’t even notice the buses, whereas I just couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Funny how your culture shapes your impression of what is Art. I was seeing this art differently than they were. This was the first time I had ever seen school buses painted this way; it struck me as ironic that you can still see that they are school buses and the artist does not try to cover that up at all.
I wondered:

  • Is this a single person who paints the bus, or is it a group project with many people contributing?
  • Did the artist(s) who painted the bus get fame and recognition for their work? Or were they anonymous?
  • What do they use as an inspiration? I couldn’t help to think that the colors probably had some significance beyond the visual impact (Mayan culture is prevalent in Guatemala and the use of colors may signify different villages, etc. ) .

My experience with the school buses showed me that Art is all around us. We just need to try to see it!

Cathie Schoenecker


21 thoughts on “Seeing Art Differently? Look at that Chicken Bus!

  1. Broken record here–I LOVE these and wish I could see them in person! I share a lot of your questions, but would venture a guess that Mayan influence is at work with the colors used. I wonder if this is a government sponsored project? Wouldn’t it be excellent to see our school buses painted like this?

  2. Wow, I wish those buses drove around here! But like you said, I think we would get used to the idea and not really be phased as they drove by if we were exposed to them daily like the people of Guatemala. The use of color is phenomenal and really just makes me wonder how long this took to paint.. a bus is a pretty big canvas!

  3. Growing up and often traveling in Mexico, I could not help but chuckle at the thought that perhaps the Partridge Family is Mexican! The Partridges rode around in a psychedelic colored bus. We thought of it as wild or, better yet, GROOVY. To Mexicans and Guatemalans, however, this is artistic expression.

    I do remember when we traveled on those buses. Some were rickety and dimly lit, and passengers did indeed carry their cardboard luggage, sometimes with chickens in tow. To the locals, it was the norm; for me, it was hard to ignore the intricate detail devoted to the art painted on those buses. I recall that much of the art was homage to the Aztecs, and I now realize how much detail is involved in the Aztec calendar alone. National pride was prevalent too, with painted historical references and colors. Something very much embraced was the Catholic religion. I recall once taking a ride with a folksy Virgin Mary painted on the entire hood of the bus. I could not help but think of the message – bless this driver and watch over the passengers and the bus.

    As I grew older and my trips became less frequent, it was hard not to notice that many of those buses were replaced by newer, more streamlined buses, devoid of color except for whatever corporate colors were used. The buses now blend into the landscape.

    Thank you, Cathie, for helping me recall fond childhood memories. Perhaps a new wave of artists should be commissioned for artistic expression to make a revival of sorts. Certainly the tourists would take note.

  4. I love those buses. I wish they did that here too instead of silly advertisements. It makes me want to visit Guatemala just to see what else they have in store. I’m not sure about traveling with chickens and farm animals though…

  5. Very cool, thank you for sharing this with us Cathie. I’ve seen a few pictures of these buses before. It’s fascinating how every bus has it’s own artistic spin. I would also like to know how many people did it take to paint the entire bus. I rode on something similar to one of these when I was visiting the Philippines a few years back. Over there, these buses are usually family owned. The family would then decorate the buses to represent their family’s beliefs, values, heritage, etc.

  6. Good blog, I’ve seen buses oversees that have artwork on them, but nothing this colorful. The thing that stood out to me the most is the use of art to transform something old and beat up into something new both in appearance and from the perspective of making something your own. It’s also nice to see art being used as part of daily life, on something that is operational, as opposed to in a gallery.

  7. Cathie this is amazing i have seen buses like this in mexico i have seen some here in usa i believe they are called “hippie” buses. i do see the art on the buses are very colorul and intriguing to stare for many hours however they could have just painted to make their rural area unique which is good! i totally wish to have something like this in the usa great topic !

  8. These buses are truly amazing and I love the vivid colors. I would think that while the artist deserved fame and recognition, this was probably his job. While he put his heart into his work, this form of art served as a function, to decorate and preserve the old yellow school bus. I also think one of the emotions that this art screams, is pride.

  9. I love that not only the outside of the bus is different, but the inside as well; having chickens and people together instead of just school children. I love the idea of having art on busses (or in this cases, buses made of art), because who decided that just because yellow buses are for school, they need to be uniform and boring. I think this art should be brought to the States and celebrated.

  10. This reminds me of being at different colleges and seeing the transport busses that carry kids around all night. The buses are always lit up and painted in cool ways. I definitely think this cultural phenomenon should be implemented here in the US. It would definitely bring life to the boring streets of cities and brighten peoples day who take public transportation. We need more creativity like this seen every day in America.

  11. I think that this is an awesome and creative way to recycle the used bus rather then have them be plain or have advertisements on them like here. I like how colorful they look, and that they are moving pieces of art. If I saw one driving down the street it would really catch my eye and I’d probably try to get a photo.

  12. I never knew that this type of bus was called a Chicken Bus so, I have learned some thing new. The designs are all so vibrant that I also wondered if the owner does the decorating or is an artist commissioned to do the work. There does seem to be a pattern of where certain elements are located on each bus.

  13. Good blog! whenever I see something like this I think of graffiti. After reading your blog it helps me look at something like this and appreciate it more! Thank you for opening my eyes up to something new.

  14. My mom is from Guatemala and when I visited i saw these. They are even more awe-inspiring in person. It was wild because literally every public bus i saw had people holding on from outside hanging to the bus, but I’m not sure if its out of respect or drivers rules, but none of the ornate buses had people on the outside. Literally all day long I would look outside and i would see a bus with people just hanging on to the window standing on whatever they could find in the heavy traffic. I tried to find a good picture but this is all i could find,d.b2I&psig=AFQjCNE5xc1zMNmPBRXPp_6g2vG9xTcaGA&ust=1380303924772468 this picture from India further illustrates the scene in Guatemala.

  15. Very cool!! I’ve always thought that our school buses here looked plain and a bit boring. This is exactly what I think they would need! To answer one of your questions, I think the artist or artists just painted whatever inspired them at that moment. It’s like looking at a blank piece of paper, and knowing you can paint anything you want. Whatever comes to your mind. I think that the mood the artist was in when he/ she painted it, along with whatever they had in mind when they painted had a lot to do with it.

  16. I love these colorful buses. There are trucks like these in Pakistan; I will talk about them more in my blog. These colorful means of transportation fascinate me a lot. I believe these make a journey much more interesting. I think it depends on the size of a bus if its small one person could paint the whole thing. Moreover, in recent years I came across Mayan culture and I love it. I love how they use bright colors in their paintings and other works of art.

  17. These buses are absolutely amazing! I have just come back Cancun, Mexico today and when I was out there some of the city buses and taxis are covered in which I would assume art, but nothing compared to these types of buses. It amazes me that they only use them, or the majority of them for livestock because personally I would love to travel around the city in one of theses. The buses are so colorful and abstract that it would be nearly impossible to ignore one of them driving by even if I lived out there. It would be interesting to know if this is something that the government encourages and if it is some short of group project.

  18. This art looks pretty cool. The more blogs I see, the most amazed I get by all this art, its very creative. By the way it looks to me, it seems like its a group of people who get together to create this type of art. The colors used are just beautiful, it captures your full attention. I love it!

  19. I believe to keep the consistancy each bus would’ve had to been made by one artist alone. I don’t know about the fame part, but my guess is that they stayed anonymous much like street artists. The inspiration could be everything around them, nature, city life, poverty, culture, etc. All of these buses are very interesting, we should
    have those here, too!

  20. I’ve never seen these types of buses in my life!! I wonder are these buses individually owned by private people? Is it funded by the government as public transportation? If so I wonder where the inspiration comes from to design these buses. I was thinking that maybe the design reflects the route the bus is taking or maybe even the driver of the bus. If these buses come from the U.S. to Guatemala, are they defected buses? How long do they usually last? Are they used for local driving or long distance driving?

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