As we've seen, motorcycles come in many shapes and sizes. But it's their most recent interpretation that has our attention. Our first run-in with John Christenson and his traveling collection of moto-inspired art dubbed 'Oil & Ink' came when we were still headquartered in Brooklyn, NY. That was 2014. Inspired by the movement, the following year we would collaborate with digital illustrator Orlando Arocena aka Mexifunk and join the Oil & Ink gallery with our own piece. Each year the show displays some of the best talent in the art world, allowing for these artists to be experienced beyond the screen in our hands taking their rightful place on walls of some of best shops in the world.
GodSpeedCo. contributor Mike Higgins recently experienced the show at this year's Handbuilt Show in Austin, TX to catch a few words with Oil & Ink curator John Christenson. We hope you enjoy. - GSCo.
John Christensen doesn’t like to sit still. It’s against his nature. He needs to keep busy, to keep moving. Maybe that’s why motorcycles speak to him. Riding them, collecting them, planning weekend trips to shows and rallies with similarly afflicted moto-enthusiasts to admire them. So, when a harsh Minnesota winter and a wife in the midst of grad-school studies created a lull in activity, John decided he needed a new project. Motorcycle related, of course.
Channeling his Nordic roots, John holed up against the brutal elements and created the foundation of what would become the Oil & Ink Expo, a traveling gallery of carefully selected art prints. Born of his affection for motorcycle magazines growing up, the Expo really grew from a realization that no one had pulled together a true collection of all the great motorcycle-centric illustrations he was seeing in publications.
“Reading magazines like Side Burn, Moto Heroes and Café Racer, I’d see illustrations, and I was always drawn to them,” John says of the idea’s origin. “I was seeing the same names popping up too, like Maxwell Paternorster, and Lorenzo Eroticolor."
Diving into his pile of magazines and researching the internet as the snows piled up outside, John discovered an entire world of artists with a propensity for two-wheeled adoration. The amount of compelling work was intriguing, but surprisingly, it seemed no one had ever pulled these artists together as a motorcycle themed collection. Not yet, anyway. John determined he’d change that, and started reaching out.
Now in its third year, the Expo has evolved some, but maintains it’s simple, straightforward origins as a collection of artists that simply love to capture their affinity for motorcycle culture. Originally skewed toward “vintage” and with a tendency for a more graphic, bold style, the collection has taken on more diversity, as its third iteration showcased at this year’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin. TX.
"I never dictate what the artists deliver, I let them use their creative freedom. The first couple years was really about whether I liked their style,” John says. “For the third year, I thought, how can I make this a little different – bring in a new perspective?”
That different perspective came in the form of a small group of judges, assembled to help in the final selections for the Expo. Along with John the curation process now includes James McBride, editor of the Silodrome, Stacie B. London of Triple Nickel 555 fame, and Bill Phelps, the artist and designer behind Moto Café Brooklyn.
The collective opinions have created a 2016 Expo that showcases a spirited scope of work. A little of everything has found its way into the traveling gallery, from whimsical water colors, to looser graphite illustrations, to a stark gold and black silkscreened printing. Individually, each piece wonderful showcases the artists’ motorcycle muse. Looked at as a whole, the Oil & Ink Expo successfully captures some real depth and breadth, and even manages to evoke an impressive emotional range.
For John, that range and emotion speaks directly to the culture he hopes comes across through the work. “The motorcycle community has been great. Everyone’s been so cool,” he says of the reception the Expo has gotten, both from the artists and the public. “It’s just awesome people, doing stuff they like.”
With the season in full swing, the Oil & Ink Expo has again taken to the road, this time literally. Now hitting the highways with a fully loaded van proudly adorned with the mantra, “Good Art For Good People,” John has expanded his already busy schedule as a freelance photographer to make room for eight stops on the Oil & Ink tour, including upcoming shows in New Hope, PA and Brooklyn, NY.
“I’m not one to sit around on the couch, I guess,” John says. Certainly not, it seems. At least not until the northerly winds kick up and force the eventual shut down of motorcycle getaways, and the shuttering of John’s own garage. Surely he’ll make best use of his down time getting the next evolution of Oil & Ink in the works.
Here’s hoping for another inspiring Minnesota winter. - Mike Higgins