Today, images of motorcycles are practically everywhere--from McDonalds' take-out bags to Hallmark cards. The biker-themed television show "American Chopper" has brought motorcycles to the small screen, and even presidential candidate John Kerry made his entrance onto the stage of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on a motorcycle in November. Motorcycles are, indeed, hot right now, as they ride the wave of 11 years of consecutive growth in sales, according to Ty van Hooydonk, director of product communications for Discover Today's Motorcycling, a nonprofit organization that promotes motorcycling and safety.
As more people get interested in motorcycling there are more people interested in the artwork that portrays it. Realistic art that focuses solely on the bike appeals to people who ride or are involved in the lifestyle or business. Art that reflects the lifestyle or history of motorcycling, however, can have a larger fan base.
Artists who paint motorcycle themes say women buy just as much of their art as men, not only because women's ridership is increasing but also because they are often the ones decorating the home. They also buy the art as gifts for the motorcycling men in their lives.
The New Bikers
The 5.7 million motorcycle owners are not who they used to be. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, in 1998 31 percent held professional or technical jobs, up from 19 percent in 1980. And, 33 percent earned more than $50,000 a year, up from less than 3 percent in 1980.
As a result, enthusiasts are willing to spend more money on motorcycle art. While originals that cost up to $60,000 can be sold easily by top artists in the niche, most clients are interested in a lower price point. "Limited editions and posters are most affordable," said watercolor artist William Perry, who started creating motorcycle art 30 years ago, shortly after he started riding. Most artists sell their limited-edition prints for $125 to $900. "Sculpture and original paintings are expensive and will only appeal to a small demographic," continued Perry.
Sculptor Mark Patrick has been a biker all his life and began sculpting motorcycles in bronze and resin 15 years ago. "If it is the right piece for the right person, people will pay $10,000 to $20,000," he said. "But people typically are willing to pay between $250 to $500."
Serious collectors of motorcycle art have often surpassed a mere passing interest in bikes. As a motorcycle enthusiast who owns 35 bikes, entrepreneur Dan Bishop began collecting motorcycle art about 15 years ago. He now has about 160 pieces, including originals from sculptor Mark Patrick and painters Eric Herrmann, Scott Jacobs and David Uhl. Bishop began collecting many of these artists before they were well known. "I always look for the up-and-coming artists with passion and a deep interest in motorcycles that is reflected on the canvas," he said.
Joining the Club
Artists who paint bikes or are inspired by them are usually bikers themselves. Their familiarity with the machines ensures that they deliver the realism that bike art buyers usually prefer. New artists looking to capitalize on the recent craze may not be bikers themselves, however. Those in the niche think it may be an important distinction. "Depending on what the artist wants to capture, it could help to know some aspects of riding and/or the lifestyle to capture 'that moment,'" said Perry. Herrmann added, "Motorcycle people know every nut, bolt and part on bikes, so you have to be technically correct or else you will look foolish."
Relatively new to the motorcycle art niche is painter and photographer Lesley "Fireweed" Gering. A rider since she was 10 years old, Gering regularly races and tests bikes. Six years ago, Gering took photos on a North American bike ride and decided to publish a coffee table book, "Women and the Art of Motorcycles." While the book is still a work in progress, Gering also has had several painting exhibits. Her latest show, titled "10 W 30," at the Sugar and Sugar Gallery in Vancouver, Canada, showcased 50 of her pieces featuring bras and motorcycle parts. The paintings were done with acrylic, lacquer and motorcycle oil. "I always end up integrating motorcycle parts [in my art]," said Gering. "I love the shape of the parts and pieces."
A motorcycle fan and a former bike owner, sculptor Bruce Gray created his first motorcycle-themed piece about eight years ago. In 2002, he finished an 800-pound motorcycle sculpture made of train parts. The life-size bike doesn't run, but now Gray is planning a new, rideable sculpture. While his 800-pound sculpture is priced at $25,000, he also has smaller pieces, including table-top sizes that are priced at about $200.
Tapping into the increasing popularity in motorcycle art, Wolfgang Publications in Stillwater, Minn., commissioned Herrmann to write a book about his art and the art of painting and drawing motorcycles. Wolfgang President Timothy Remus said lie senses a tremendous level of interest in this based on the success of similar books about cars. Released in March 2004, the 144-page "How to Paint & Draw Motorcycles" contains biographical information about Herrmann and details about the techniques and business.
Daytona or Bust
Many motorcycle art shows center around motorcycle events and rallies, especially the big rallies at Sturgis, S.D., and Daytona Beach, Fla., where artists set up in tents, motorcycle dealerships or galleries. Photographer Michael Lichter is showing his work at the Daytona Beach Bike Week 2004 "Era of the Motorcycle" at the Museum of Arts and Sciences. For the past three years, Lichter has also shown his work at the Journey Museum in Rapid City, S.D., 25 miles from the Sturgis rally; last year more than 600 people attended the opening reception, about six times the museum's usual attendance. A motorcycle photographer for more than 25 years, Lichter works almost exclusively for Easyriders magazine and also does commercial motorcycle photography.
In 2001 and 2002, co-owner Naomi Beans showed the art of Eric Herrmann at her Termar Gallery in Durango, Calif., to coincide with the local bike rally. Showing two of his originals, as well as giclees and limited-edition prints, she said the event brought in about 30 percent more foot traffic than usual, and sales increased by 20 to 25 percent over normal business. On average, over the two-day show, Beans said she sold about 30 to 40 limited-edition prints for $150 to $200, one $2,500 girlie, but no originals (priced $30,000 to $60,000). Beans plans on doing a similar show this year.
The Indiana University Kokomo Art Gallery is holding the "VROOOM ... Art in Motion: Art Inspired by Motorcycles" exhibit from June 11 to July 16. The show will coincide with the state's Harley Owner's Group (H.O.G.) rally in Kokomo the weekend of June 11. Gallery Director Minda Douglas said the gallery will be a stop on one of the rally's organized rides: "It is a great way to have an art exhibit and bring in individuals who don't normally go to art galleries." She expects it will be the gallery's most successful show ever, with an estimated 1,000 guests over the rally weekend.
One gallery is looking to make motorcycle art a focus. Legacy Motors Automotive Art Gallery went online last September and opened its 12,000-square-foot Chicago gallery on Jan. 1. While the gallery carries mostly car art, President Michael Knab said, "Motorcycles are every bit the natural subject matter as a classic car. They appeal to a sense of the heroic and noble." In fact, the first piece of art Legacy sold was a 24- by 18-inch limited-edition giclee by Craig Fennel for $110. In addition to other Fennel motorcycle prints, Legacy also carries open-edition prints by Danny Whitfield. Legacy is working on deals to carry more motorcycle artists and recently signed a deal to sell Scott Jacobs' originals and prints.
The Big Guns
Segal Fine Art in Louisville, Colo., is one of the few publishers that deals exclusively or largely in motorcycle art. It has been the exclusive licensee of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company for the past 10 years. Segal first entered the niche in 1993 when its client, Scott Jacobs, painted a collection of Malcolm Forbes' motorcycles, said Ron Segal, president and owner. Harley soon licensed the artist and created a relationship with Segal through which more artists, such as David Uhl, have been licensed with Harley. The Harley-Segal relationship culminated in 2003 with Harley's 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Harley released a limited number of licensed print and sculpture reproductions while keeping the originals.
Harley and Segal have since terminated their licensing agreement. While Harley is still planning the next stages of its fine arts program, Segal plans to continue with the niche. Segal recently signed artist David Mann, who is well known for his recurring spreads in Easyriders magazine, to put out limited-edition prints from his original paintings. Segal is also working on a contract with Warner Bros. to license Dave Martinez to paint Looney Tunes characters on motorcycles.
Kansas City, Mo.-based publisher, studio and gallery BayTree Group began getting into motorcycle art about two years ago when president Jamie Gladman discovered bike rallies through some friends. "What sets us apart from what is out there is event-specific art," he said. "Our art commemorates that specific time and is a reminder of the trip." Gladman, his brother, John, and Wayne Wilkes, BayTree's "Web guy," create the art themselves. While Gladman said they sell 60 percent of their art at the rallies themselves, 35 percent of business comes from online sales by people who picked up their card at a rally and five percent is sold in the Kansas City gallery.
One growing area of motorcycle art is commissioned bike portraits. BayTree offers them for $250 apiece. Gladman said they have done about 30 portraits since 2003. Sculptor Bruce Gray will also create personalized bike sculptures from photographs clients send him. In addition, for the second time in three years, Segal Fine Art is running a contest for a bike portrait to be painted by one of its artists--a $25,000 value. Segal said they received thousands of entries for the first contest. "It is a tremendous turn-on for people," he said.
* Arlen Ness Motorcycles, (925) 479-6350
* BayTree Group, (913) 269-4721
* Lesley "Fireweed" Gering, www.motorgirl.com
* Bruce Gray, (323) 223-4059
* Eric Herrmann, 888-200-6554
* Indiana University Kokomo Art Gallery, (765) 455-9523
* Indian Larry, 866-472-4370
* Legacy Motors Automotive Art Gallery, 877-534-2733
* Michael Lichter, (303} 449-3906
* Mark Patrick, 800-633-0670
* William Perry, www.williamperry.org
* Segal Fine Art, 800-999-1297
* Termar Gallery, (970) 247-3728
* Wolfgang Publications, (651) 275-9411
In 1998, New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presented a show called "The Art of the Motorcycle." Focusing on motorcycle design and the motorcycle as a cultural icon, this show perhaps legitimized what custom bike builders have known for decades: a motorcycle itself is a work of art.
Aden Ness, one of the major founders of custom bike building, started custom painting his own bike and then those of his friends in 1967. He is now the owner and president of Aden Ness Motorcycles, one of the world's top motorcycle customizers. Ness said the most common parts of a bike to customize are the paint job, the seat and the exhaust pipes, but everything from the hand-formed aluminum frame to the motor can be custom-made.
"Indian" Larry said he coined the term "motorcycle artist" 15 years ago to describe his work as a bike customizer. "[Building bikes] is my ultimate expression, like a musician with his music," he said. Larry, who began building bikes 40 years ago, conceptualizes everything from the paint to the metalwork, sometimes around a theme such as a Tiki love god, always trying to build a detailed, strong and technically perfect bike. "The last bike I sold went to a collector, and an interior designer was at his house when it was delivered," he said. "The designer looked at it and said it reminded her of a Faberge egg." The difference between a completely aesthetic piece of art and a bike, however, is that when building a bike you have to follow "extreme" criteria, said Larry. "There is no margin for error; you can't be off on a motor."…