Zen and the Art of Motorcycles: Get Your Motor Running to Catch the Evolving Trend of Motorcycle Art

By Sturm, Ellen | Art Business News, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Zen and the Art of Motorcycles: Get Your Motor Running to Catch the Evolving Trend of Motorcycle Art


Sturm, Ellen, Art Business News


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. …

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