Tuesday, May 14, 2013


This project is a creative journey, examining my own search for intersections between art life and bike life.  As with any expedition there are other explorers who have gone before and it is important to note these in order to map a solid trajectory.  Bicycles have made intermittent appearances in contemporary art over the last century, some of them more glamorous than others.

I’ll begin with Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel.  In 1913 this French fella decided to place a bike wheel upside down in a stool and sit in his studio, smoking cigarettes, watching it spin around.  “It’s like watching the flames of a fire”, he said, in a heavy French accent.  It was not until a couple of years later, when Duchamp put a porcelain urinal on a plinth and tagged it with a pseudonym that he decided he wanted the art world to think about these objects seriously, offering the idea that they be considered as ‘ready mades’.  This was the revolutionary idea that an artist could take anything they find and call it art.

Next on my list is the creative genius Frank Zappa.   I’m not sure I can do justice to his almightiness in a written description here, except to say that his wildly prolific career and devotion to testing the boundaries of convention have influenced multiple generations of artists that have witnessed his exploits.  His appearance on the Steve Allen Show in 1963, reveals a baby faced Frank, obviously inspired and at the beginning of his phenomenal career.  One of my favourite Zappa tales is that, without him, there would have been no Smoke on the Water recorded by Deep Purple.  It was a rabid Zappa fan who shot a flare into the ceiling of the Montreux Casino, mid concert, that “burned the place to the ground…”

Ai Wei Wei is a contemporary and truly radical artist.  His outspoken artworks and criticism of the Chinese government have had him arrested and thrown in jail.  His high profile has brought him global attention personally and also to the political cause of his people.  Being that the bicycle is the primary mode of transport for more than 500 million Chinese it comes as no surprise that bikes feature in numerous forms in his work.  He has variously stacked and joined frames and components from China’s leading brand, Forever.


In my time as an Australian artist there have been a number of bike uses from artists whose work I am a fan of.  Matthew Bradley is an Adelaide based artist who arguably sowed the seed one of the most significant seeds for the project that I am undertaking.  He has made a couple of works that pay homage to Australian freak bike culture within the context of his ongoing investigations of vehicles, exploring and just what it means to be a boy.

Being that the BMX features heavily in the childhood of most Australian boys it is predictable that it should appear in the artwork of these boys as they become artists. Matt Griffin, Paul Wrigley and the master of pop culture sculpture, Ricky Swallow, have all produced variations of this magical two-wheeled machine that captures the imaginations and afternoons of many a suburban youth. 

There is one Australian artist that deserves particular attention who has singlehandedly done more for the union of extreme sport and contemporary art than any other artist.  Shaun Gladwell has spent more than a decade examining skating, break dancing, bmx, other street sport cultures and their potential to convey poetic ideas.  He continues his global rise and rise and video art world domination to this day.  This is a great video that gives an insight to his work generally and his 2013 UK exhibition Cycles of Radical Will.


Freak bikes, frankenbikes and generally weird pedal powered vehicles are nothing new.  I would like to pay homage to a few cultural icons the helped birth this particular project.  First of all, CHUNK 666 as true innovators in the genre of imminent apocalyptic prophecies, inspired many an angle grinder and bicycle union.  During the 90's, via their use of the ancient publishing format of zines, they spread the good word across the US and the globe.  I tip my helmet to the Black Label Bicycle Club for bringing high energy inspiration in typical NYC fashion.  They are representative of radical political ideals and cultural rebellion, principles to which I am always keen to align. 

The omnipotent Johnny Payphone gets the heftiest high five here, for a couple of reasons.  As a representative of the Rat Patrol he was invited to Australia by some very clever dicks in our nation’s capital.  They formed an Australian chapter, Rat Patrol Oz, and it was Johnny Payphone who forged the link between Adelaide’s Tongue of Fire and the Canberra freaks.  I also note Mr Payphone here in reference to his instructional DIY videos, an interesting contemporary internet subculture generally speaking, that will likely recur in my investigations.

Tall Bike Bobby is a combination adventurer and bicycle advocate whose approach to broadening public perception of cycling is warm and  inviting.  He has completed a West Coast tour of the US aboard a tall bike, spreading the greasy love all over the highways and laneways of California and beyond. 

Lastly, I would like to pay homage to a great freaky man who has assisted countless individuals trying to work out how to fix their bike via online assistance.   Anyone who has ever searched for bicycle tech support will have come across the inimitable Sheldon Brown.  A peerless figure of the bicycle universe, his blog has helped many a cyclist continue their adventures.  R.I.P. Dr. Brown.

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