Presenting the motorcycle as sculpture

Robin Peck challenges the relationship between art and design (Tom Bateman/AQ file photo)
Robin Peck challenges the relationship between art and design (Tom Bateman/AQ file photo)

In 1998, Guggenheim Museum in New York City hosted the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit which displayed over 100 bikes– one of the first times the vehicle had been presented as art. The show attracted the largest crowds museum had hosted, but received mixed reviews from the art world. Some thought the machines were high-end sculptures. Others couldn’t find a single link between the two.

Local artist and fine arts professor Robin Peck is a person who casts a fickle eye towards the subject. For him it remains a topic of intrigue and one which requires further exploration. This semester he opened up the debate to his students at St. Thomas University.

“This year I decided to make up the Motorcycle and Art course to expand the offerings in the fine arts category and to make art more accessible. Although, I am hoping students get some kind of understanding of the complex relationships between art, industrial design, and engineering. Which might even lead to an understanding of the various definitions of art,” said Peck.

Grant Carson is one student who found himself with a short course load and not many options left to choose from. After leafing through a catalogue of classes for the fourth time, he stumbled across Peck’s creation.

“My initial reaction was kind of what the hell is this all about? I mean it was just squeezed between like art fundamentals and drawing and sketching, but those are titles you expect to see, throw the word motorcycle in there and it really catches the eye. So, it was kind of a curiosity killed the cat thing which landed me into this class,” said Carson.

“As for the art part, I’m undecided. I mean it takes a lot of small gadgets and sprockets to make the whole thing and they look undeniably cool, but does that make a washer and dryer set art or even a car or a laptop?”

Peck opened one class with two pictures: a bare art studio and a garage draped with tools and automotive parts. This suggested that it’s the process which makes something art. However, mainstream motorcycle companies mass produce these beasts by the hundreds every day while a single painting may take months and can never be duplicated.

“I’ve been driving a motorcycle for two years and I never thought of it as art,” said University of New Brunswick student Natasha Daigle. “For me I guess it is a form of personal expression. You can let loose and not think about anything else which is kind of what art is about, I think.”

Over the years we have romanticized the motorcycle, but it can’t be denied that the motorcycle is the only method of transportation which has produced its own counter-culture. Hells Angels, crime, and biker babes give the motorcycle a certain appeal and longevity which artists crave.

“Basically, I created this course because I got tired of uninformed people talking about art and motorcycles, but mainly this course is kind of like a personal study to look at the relationship between the two to find out if there is anything to it,” said Peck.

“I have yet to be convinced that there is any link between motorcycles and art, but we shall see.”