Photos and Text by Agata Storer
TRURO — During the summer, Justine Ives is a manager of logistics at Cape Cab; in the off season, she’s the Funk Bus painter.
The buses, with their bright colors, animal-print patterns, and stenciled designs, are hard to miss on the roads of the Outer Cape as they ferry summer revelers to bars, clubs, and beaches. Michael Duplessis, who was a Cape Cab driver, came up with the idea for this wild fleet. Duplessis, who performed as the drag personality Pearlene Dubois and died in 2016, drove an earlier iteration of the Funk Bus: the funk cab. It had a sound system for karaoke and party lights and was covered with psychedelic frescoes painted by Joey Mars.
“The first bus was bought in 2010,” says Ives. That’s when she and Stephen Wells were recruited by Cape Cab owner Raphael Richter to paint it in a pink leopard print. “Pearlene was the first one to drive it and was always in drag for that, driving down Commercial Street blasting the sound system,” says Ives.
Last year, when the company acquired a new batch of buses, Ives found herself with a full-time off-season project on her hands. Wells had decided to retire from bus painting, says Ives. She designs patterns for the buses relying on skills she developed at Savannah College of Art and Design and which she also deploys as a book illustrator.
Ives draws on memories of travels in India and South America, where she saw buses and trucks painted in crazy patterns and colors, she says. But as much as she loves leopard prints, she wanted to do something more related to Cape Cod for the Funk Buses.
Some of her current designs incorporate images of whales, sharks, ships, and underwater plants. Ives starts her planning on the computer by mapping her designs and patterns on photographs of the buses. This gives her an idea of what stencils she needs to make. The stencils, she says, “are like a big puzzle.”
Clayton Ellis, Cape Cab’s mechanic, begins each project by laying on a pink and purple base coat (he also does a top coat). Ives then paints patterns before bringing in animal stencils. She’ll finish eight buses this year.
Ives likes that her winter job giving up the funk is one that “brings a little joy to everybody.”