OLD IRON, YOUNG BLOOD
MOTORCYCLES & THE NEXT GEN
The next generation of custom builders and artists is shaping the future of motorcycling. Hint: The future looks very, very good.
“YOU’RE CRAZY!” That’s what I was told in August of 2016 when I first presented the idea of devoting the Motorcycles as Art exhibition of 2017 to today’s up-and-coming generation. “It can’t happen,” “They’ll never show up,” and a barrage of epithets were quickly hurled in my direction. At the same time, younger builders and artists I’d discussed it with were excited at the prospect. I learned a lot over the year it took to put this exhibition together. The most important being that millennials hate being called millennials.
The fact that 37 builders, 10 helmet painters, six graphic artists, and four photographers created their respective works and got them to the gallery on time in itself testifies that the stereotypes about millennials don’t fit—at least not for this group of artists. Most of the builders built their bikes just for the exhibition, and none of the bikes were more than a few months old, other than Ross Tomas’ bike, which was built not long before he died in 2014 at the age of 20. In fact, almost all of the bikes were unveiled to the public for the very first time at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip this past August.
Technically, “millennial” as a term just defines the generation that came of age in the 2000s. For the purpose of this exhibition, I included 35-year-old artists and builders born in 1982 right down to 17-year-old Duran Morley of RSD who was born in 2000. Generally speaking, the term has evolved into one loaded with negative connotations, but by choosing to stick with the theme, I hoped to reject stereotypes and preconceptions to create a survey of work from which we can all discover what this rising generation is all about.
Creating an exhibition themed around the next generation of builders, bikes, and motorcycle artists ensured a diverse display. From café racers and street trackers to old-school choppers and modern customs, all styles were represented.
Eight of the builders, Jody Perewitz, Karlee Cobb, Len Kodlin, Matt Olsen, Matt Walksler, Nikki Martin, Ross Tomas, and Zach Ness, grew up in family-owned motorcycle businesses, while some like Brad Gregory, J. Shia, Jesse Srpan, Matt Mcmanus, and Savannah Rose pointed to the impact of parents who rode and their time wrenching with them as they were growing up.
THE FACT THAT 37 BUILDERS, 10 HELMET PAINTERS, SIX GRAPHIC ARTISTS, AND FOUR
Whether it was family that brought the “Old Iron/young Blood” builders to the custom bike world or if they came to it on their own, all the builders were influenced by the power of television when the “motorcycle years” of the early to mid-2000s catapulted a small group of custom builders to rockstar fame. The nation was riveted to TV screens as fabricators were pitted against each other in biker build-offs, and then there was the Teutul family on American Chopper where custom bikes were built despite whirlwind drama and familial dysfunction. Not that anyone really wanted to build the often overweight and oversize theme bikes they saw on these shows, but the idea of building something with one’s own hands definitely came across. That’s what these builders all have in common, regardless of whether they make a living with their craft or work day jobs to help pay for their addiction—a common passion for motorcycling consumes their waking hours.
There are a number of things we know are different with this generation compared to all prior generations: They have a different way of communicating; they have been exposed to more information than anyone could have dreamed of 20 years earlier; the rate of change, in all its manifestations, has accelerated to the frenzied pace we see now; and the world appears less safe than once believed.
Each of these factors have influenced the way young people have chosen to live their lives as well as their outlook on life. Perhaps as a reaction to modern life, many in this generation look back to simpler times for inspiration as often as they may look forward, and this is what many did with their bikes. That may have been a predictable route for second- and third-generation builders, but it really rang true with most of them.
As we all know, it’s hard to be different and come up with your own look, but most of us have been there and understand the struggle. I saw this with many of today’s master builders like Billy Lane, Brian Klock, Dave Perewitz, Jesse James, and Paul Yaffe when I photographed them before they had turned 36 and were still developing their styles just like the “Old Iron/ Young Blood” builders in this exhibition.
I also saw this with my own personal photography of the biker lifestyle that goes back to my early 20s. We had our aspirations and stumbled along the way toward achieving them. I, for one, wish I could go back—not back in time but back in age to be part of this exciting next generation today. How lucky they are with their entire careers before them in one of the most exciting times motorcycling has ever seen.
This exhibition reminds me of an interaction during the 2004 filming of the Dave Perewitz-versus-billy Lane Biker Buildoff. Early before sunrise on the first morning, as I was standing by myself next to Lane’s orange “Down N’ Dirty” drop-saddle chopper in Jacksonville, Florida, someone not much older than I was came over and simply said, “I don’t get it.” In an effort to help, I asked if he had any kids and he said, “Yes.” I then asked if he liked their music, to which he quickly said, “No!” and that he wasn’t interested in it either. It didn’t matter whether we were talking music or bikes because it was really the exact same thing.
We all have choices to make, and while I don’t think we have to like every new flavor that comes along, it seems important to be open-minded. So this is what I ask of you today as you take in the “Old Iron/young Blood” exhibition on these pages: Take your time looking over the bikes and the art and try to fathom the creative energy and talent it all represents. If you can, try to put yourself in their shoes. Hopefully, if the exhibit was a success, we will all better understand what this very capable group of artisans is about and what will be coming around the bend.
Lastly, watch this group closely over the next few years because I guarantee some of these artisans will emerge as the superstars of tomorrow.
Tattoo and graphic artist Christina Platis (above).
Custom builder Jay Donovan of British Columbia finds out his Yamaha XS-650 on display at the Old Iron/young Blood just won a trip to be displayed in Verona, Italy, for the Motor Bike Expo, a major European show.