‘Art is eternal, for it reveals the inner landscape, which is the soul of man’ — Martha Graham, Dancer and Choreographer
The very first article I ever published was for Easyriders, that groundbreaking magazine which was at once the LIFE, Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest of the outlaw biker set. I wrote specifically about tattoo removal – a topic I thought some readers might find interesting – after an encounter with a dermatologist at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Hastings, Nebraska, who told me about a then-new technique for obliterating unwanted tattoos via laser. I won’t bore you with the details – the information is all woefully outdated anyway – but I ended my piece with the words
‘These days, even art is not eternal.’
However, barring catastrophic circumstances like the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, where – in addition to thousands of lives, including my cousin Eddie – an estimated $110 million worth of art was destroyed, or the Taliban’s deliberate destruction of The Buddhas of Bamiyan, art really is eternal….
….and even those pieces lost or destroyed live on in memory.
….and all this to say ‘Hey! I got some cool stuff to show ya!’
IN THE BEGINNING….
I don’t know who first attempted to paint or draw images of the biker life, but Dave Mann was certainly a pioneer. After selling some early paintings of biker life to Choppers magazine founder Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth (creator of the iconic ‘Rat Fink’ and a number of radically customized cars and motorcycles), Mann join the El Forastero Motorcycle Club (forastero is ‘stranger’ or ‘foreigner’ in Spanish) as a charter member of the club’s Kansas City MO chapter.
In 1971 Mann answered an advert for a ‘motorcycle artist’, discovered in the back pages of a new biker magazine called Easyriders, and spent the remainder of his working life as in-house artist for the publication. His first centerfold painting for Easyriders appeared in October, 1971, and Mann reportedly produced artwork – centerfold paintings, story illustrations and adverts – for every issue from that first to his retirement in 2003, shortly before he passed away. His final piece, Sunset, appeared in the May 2004 issue.
His earliest works were primitive – a cross between illustration and caricature – but as he gained experience Mann’s work took on a style reminiscent of the American painter Edward Hopper, who is best known for his iconic Nighthawks(1942). Look at the figures in Hopper’s work, and compare them to Mann’s. I certainly see the influence.
More than technique or style, however, Hopper and Mann shared the desire to illustrate and elevate the prosaic, the quotidian, the mundane everyday doings of regular people historically overlooked by representational artists. For Hopper it might be patrons seated in a late-night diner – an apparent oasis of light and warmth in an otherwise dreary cityscape – sharing space and yet isolated from one another, silent, bored. For Mann it could be the streetwalker ignoring her john to watch the more attractive, more enticing biker cruise by on his radical panhead chopper. Hopper might present a sweet moment between a young couple on a dark summer evening – you can almost hear the crickets singing – while Mann’s swain straddles a raked and stretched shovelhead as he chats up the object of his affections on a crisp autumn afternoon….
You get the point.
And by ‘centerfold’ I merely refer to the fact that Mann’s work appeared in the center pages of each issue, where it could be removed (as so many of us did) and turned into a poster. Although many of his paintings included idealized images of women, his purpose was to document our lives as bikers, not provide masturbation motivation for horny teenagers!
STRAIGHT ON FOR YOU!
One perspective Mann relied on was full frontal….
Leaving Mr. Bones behind, here is a classic piece by Dave Mann:
Mann returned to that theme many times in his career.
….as did Mann’s ‘Pacific Coast Highway Run’.
Another favorite was the reverse: the motorcycle moving in a straight line away from the viewer. He used both angles to great affect.
Mann’s follow-up to Coming at You appeared in a Jammers Handbook. Mann’s attention to detail extended even to the smallest things, like the oil spatter up this passenger’s left shoulder, excess lubricant slung off the rear drive chain at speed. You could always spot a biker chick by those chain tracks, and you could tell if she was packin’ on a Big Twin or Sporty by which shoulder was marked. I pissed off more than one woman passenger when their nicest tops ended up ruined that way! 🤷♀️
THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Mann’s technical abilities as an artist are undeniable but, as clearly demonstrated here, for those of us who ride it was Mann’s ability to illustrate the everyday aspects of our lives as bikers which so endeared him to us. He captured the emotional element – the ‘inner landscape’ Ms. Graham referenced in her quote – in painting after painting.. It might be two bikers blasting down an L.A. freeway, beards and club colors flapping in the wind, as one passes a joint to the other.
It might be a biker on his low, lean, radically stretched chopper, glaring balefully at the cop writing out a traffic ticket.
It might be a woman frustrated and angry because her old man, the insensitive prick, just passed a beer joint when she desperately needed a potty break….
….or another one of my favorites. showing a woman curled up against her man’s back, safe and secure and sleepy after a weekend of riding and camping out under the stars, while he steers his radical chopper back to the brightly-lit city in the distance.
One of Dave Mann’s most iconic images has been stolen and reproduced on everything from t-shirts and coffee mugs to wall tapestries, area rugs and more. In ‘Ghost Rider’ Mann equates the hard-riding biker at the foreground to the hard-riding ghostly cowboy keeping pace with him. Some of the later reproductions went the politically correct route of erasing the SS lightning bolts Mann’s biker has on his fuel tank….
….and that topic is a whole ‘nother post! 😎
Mann covered breakdowns and break-ups, club life and solo riders, sleek choppers and road-warrior rat bikes, and brought to each painting the same skill and dedication to detail. He was our Frederic Remington, and we loved him for it.
Another favorite. Anyone who rides very long at all has been in a similar situation….
….but try to make the best of it! 😆
BREAKING DOWN AND CRACKING UP!
Paul Simon once sang ‘Everything put together sooner or later falls apart,’ and that’s as true of motorcycles as anything else. In numerous paintings, Dave Mann captured the frustration and helplessness of that instant when your machine fails, and you realize there’s nothing you can do about it except sit and wait, or go for help.
One of the reasons I have always been psychotic about building my bike to be bulletproof, and making sure I can fix all but the worst breakdowns with tools and spare parts in my road kit is because I cannot stand to be that helpless, hapless rider stranded beside the road.
And as an aside: I will never understand why some riders get angrywhen I mention tool kits and roadside repairs in that context. Seems to me everyone is better off if I can fix the problem by the side of the road and get on with the ride, rather than be forced to wait for a wrecker or a buddy with a trailer to come fetch me. Still, I’ve had riders – every one of them the sort I call ‘Born Again Bikers’ – get absolutely incensed at the notion that I am capable in that regard, as if my competence was – dare I say it? – a challenge to their manhood…. 🙄
When I got the bike home and replaced the wasted primary belt, I realized that I couldn’t have replaced the belt by the side of the road even if I’d had a spare belt with me; that the inner primary cover (which can’t be removed without an impact wrench and clutch-hub puller) wouldn’t let me take the belt off the engine pulley! Since I had the inner primary cover off anyway, I took the opportunity to grind down the bosses on the inner primary so that I couldtake the belt off without removing the inner primary. That’s just how I roll! 😁
Of course, it could be worse….
However, if you’re lucky enough to break down while riding with others, the Biker’s Code says ‘No biker left behind.’ By hook or crook or boot and rope, you’re both getting home.
And if all else fails….
Another scene most riders will recognize (or cringe from): the bike that just…. Will. Not. Start! I’ve never owned a Sportster, but I started my share during my years of working at Bud’s. I’ve also sure AF been that pissed at my shovel, when it’s been particularly coldblooded and cantankerous. Fortunately for me, those instances have been few and far between….
….and the next sound you hear will be me knockin’ on wood! 😱
Our machines aren’t the only things that betray us. Bikers are all too familiar with the cager who seems to have it in for us. Popular wisdom advises riders Don’t ride as if they can’t see you; ride as if they’re aiming for you! Unfortunately, I know from bitter experience that sometimes they actually are aiming for us!
But if one of the bastards gets you, what can you do but heal as best you can, and dream of getting back in the wind where you belong.
if you’ve ever built a motorcycle, you’ll recognize the anguished look on this fellow’s face, as he watches his freshly painted fuel tank head for a collision with the garage floor.
Mayhaps he needs a helper. Maybe a curvaceous blonde? Someone half-naked, perhaps? Yeah, that’ll do the trick! 😆
In Mann’s art, women are primarily placed in secondary roles as backrests, bike washers, beer fetchers and sexual conquests. In Mann’s world, women rarely ride their own. In fact, of the hundreds of paintings Mann produced, I’ve only found a baker’s dozen thus far depicting women riders. However, to his credit, man or woman, when he painted them he brought the same skills, artistic integrity and vision to bear.
And what could be finer than doing something you love, like riding, and looking over to see the person you love most enjoying the same thing?
I FOUGHT THE LAW AND THE LAW WON!
One of the downsides of biker life is the occasional brush with the law.
I’ve gotten a couple of these over the years. One was right after I’d installed brand new mufflers on my bike! Turns out I was riding my motorcycle in that trooper’s personal ‘No Biker Zone’. I’ve learned there are a lot of those in this state. 🙄 I’ve come to see ‘too loud’ tickets as a sort of ‘road-use tax’; nothing to do but pay the piper.
We’ve all had close calls like this, too.
But sometimes the heat is more than just an inconvenient traffic stop or speeding ticket. Too many bikers have wasted years inside prison walls, and Mann showed their lives, as well.
On a brighter note, here Mann captures the joy on a rider’s face as he clears those gates. The first things he sees are his girl, a bottle of Jack, and his prized shovelhead chop. As an added bonus: Dave Mann and Jacquie at right, ready to welcome him back to the world.
Mann knows the history of our tribe, from the streets of Hollister, where it all began….
….through the early days of the custom bike scene….
….and the club life of the Sixties….
….the custom bike movement of the Seventies….
….and the new century….
….to the prophetically named Last Call….
….and the future, come what may.
So many incredible paintings, but one of the images that most touches me is this one, depicting a rider on his rigid shovelhead, alone in the desert hills. The shadow behind him shows us he’s missing his woman, wishing she were still tucked in behind him for the long ride; tucked in behind him where she belongs. The tattoo on his arm and the title – In Memory Of… – suggest that she’s not just out of his life, but altogether gone from this world. I’ve never lost a lover to death, but I do know the ache of yearning for something you once possessed, and will never have again.
Finally, an appearance by the artist himself. Dave Mann often appeared in his own artwork, but this one is particularly prized by fans because it shows Dave’s beloved shovelhead in action. The late tattoo artist Richiepan built an exact replica of Mann’s shovelhead, only to see it destroyed when the trailer hauling it broke loose on the highway.