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Gambit Weekly White Linen and Black Leather

By D. Eric Bookhardt

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Lory Lockwood's City Bikes portrait of Harleys is just one appreciation of the motorhead culture now on display at the C.A.C.

It was an intriguing idea. As an alternative or, shall we say, a complement, to the artsy-craftsy gentility of White Linen Night on Julia Street, the Contemporary Arts Center offered bikes, motorcycles, black leather and chrome a mere block away. And I, for one, was ready.

On White Linen Nights past, the preponderance of precious baubles proliferating on Julia inspired me to petition St. Expedite for a visitation of Hell's Angels. And now, it seemed, my prayers have finally been answered. Well, sort of ... .

True to its "alternative" art pedigree, the CAC is indeed a showcase for some pleasantly obsessive motorcycle art, as well as actual bikes -- hogs, or "show-quality racing motorcycles" on loan from Easyriders of New Orleans. Some realistic as well as fantastical touches round out the "motorhead" ambience of the show, and while there are some good reasons to applaud its out-of-the-ordinary aura, there will probably be those who will ask, "What does this have to do with art?"

Aha! Funny you should ask. The appearance of motorheads and hogs in the hallowed halls of art is actually a sign of sorts, an omen -- like Vulcan storming the chambers of Venus, a flaming arrow that pierces the internally combusting heart of modernism itself. Or so it might seem, if we thought long and hard enough about it. Of course, in this heat, it is easier just to look at it.

What we see is a colorful array of paintings, sculpture and motorcycles interspersed through the first-floor galleries. The paintings depict a mixed bag of motorcycle themes with a series of realistic close-up views by Lory Lockwood more or less setting the tone. Tightly framed to the point of abstraction, these at first resemble precisely executed airbrush art. Rendered in the opalescent colors of that medium, Lockwood's images reveal themselves as traditional oil paintings only upon closer inspection.

Imagistically, they are matter-of-fact, deadpan to the point of photorealism. Only an occasional fat, juicy brushstroke betrays their "maker's mark," so to speak, the human touch that injects a personal note into the glossy mechanical aura.

In City Bikes, a cadre of carefully groomed Harleys stand casually if uniformly erect, looking about as fit and sassy as show horses on parade. Downtown buildings are reflected in the cool glare of display windows behind them, and the whole scene conveys an eerie sense of the intermingled hot and cool sensations that make up the experience of modern life. This is an emblematic image. Most of Lockwood's other views zero in on reflections appearing in the bikes' chrome headlights, tailpipes and such, visions that slither in the chromium glare like apparitions in crystal balls.

Justin Forbes, by contrast, adds a more humanistic dimension to the mix in his Urban Sportsmen series. One untitled image features a young biker in bed with his arm in a nasty-looking cast and some equally ungainly stitches in his leg. He looks dazed but undaunted as he convalesces in a room overwhelmed with motorcycle paraphernalia. In another painting, a youthful biker on a Harley revs across hard red dirt with a crimson Confederate flag fluttering against an opaque blue sky. It's that posture of rebellious defiance against things "correct" or official that defines the "outlaw" biker code, and in these works, Forbes displays his talents as a consummate observer of the ironies he finds among his fellow Generation Xers.

A variety of other works by Tim Hailey, John Hamilton, Chris Saucedo, Jeffrey Pitt and Stephen Richardson round out the bright and bracing biker dynamic in some highly personalized ways. Also featured are some of Andrew Farrington's surreal biker "helmets," otherworldly sculpted metal headgear like props from a sci-fi movie about Hell's Angels on Mars.

Of course, the sculptural stars of this show are the bikes themselves. Besides the specimens on display, a "speed shop" installation by Matthew Vis titled Iron Horse features Kawasakis and Hondas in various states of reconstruction. Very nearly the real thing, Iron Horse re-creates the environment of speed, gears and grease that is the very oxygen of the motorhead culture.

This brings us back to Venus, Vulcan and the internally combusting heart of modernism -- which actually began with Filippo Marinetti and his Futurist movement (Cubism's only real rival in its early days). In 1909, he wrote: "We declare that the world has been enriched by a new beauty, the beauty of speed, the roaring engine that seems to run on shrapnel." He proposed "an intuitive psychology of matter" to "conquer the hostility that separates human flesh from the metal of motors." Marinetti was the first art motorhead. He died in World War II, defending Mussolini.


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