Biker gang

 ‘Procycle 2009’ at Machines with Magnets
By GREG COOK  |  November 12, 2009


YOU ARE THERE Sam Rosenholtz’s “Bike Photo #678 (Chinatown).”

You’re looking over the handlebars of a bike, down the narrow canyon between a pair of city buses heading right at you. Sam Rosenholtz’s photo of riding the wrong way in the middle of traffic defies the rules of the road, but it produces a striking image. The wide-angle lens makes it look as if the bike is parting a Red Sea of traffic. The Brookline, Massachusetts, photographer mounted a camera to the frame of his bike to make you feel you are recklessly there.

The shot is one of the standout artworks in “Procycle 2009” at Machines With Magnets (400 Main Street, Pawtucket, through November 29). The theme — an “exhibition of bicycling culture” — seems like perfect idea for the greater-Providence art scene. Cycling and art go hand in hand here, as evidenced by the piles of bike parts awaiting reuse that were one of the standout features of Fort Thunder and other art lofts around town. Providence’s size makes it eminently pedalable and biking suits the environmental, political, and economic stances of many artists in town.

You get a sense of this when the website for Providence’s Circle A Cycles says they specialize in custom steel bike frames, repairs, “and in our spare time, smashing the state.” You can see it in projects like Recycle-a-Bike, a volunteer bike education and mechanics collective at the Steel Yard. And it pops up again when Sarah Sandman organized a “Bike Write” ride following a route through Providence that spelled out Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes We Can” last fall. She and pal Melissa Small also biked from Providence to Seattle over the summer of 2008, giving away art they got people to make at each stop along the way.

“Procycle 2009” skirts the edges of some of this stuff, particularly with a wall of fliers and posters, like Providence screenprint artist Jean Cozzens’s 2004 Providence Bike City poster for a bike carnival and other events organized by Recycle-a-Bike. Also see the “ghost bike” suspended from the ceiling. It’s an example of how people across the country have come to honor those killed while biking. In this case, it’s an old bike that was painted white and stationed outdoors in Warwick for five months as a memorial to Frank Cabral of Warwick, who was killed when he was hit by a sport-utility vehicle driving in the breakdown lane while he bicycled along Route 1 in 2007. There is also a grid of 98 little photos by Mike Davis of details of a bike Circle A’s Brian Chapman custom-built for a West Coast race. But for the most part, the show doesn’t plumb the interconnection of biking and artists are around here. It’s a missed opportunity.

The group show comes out of an open call for bike-related art put out by Alan Barta, a Cranston bicyclist as well as a publicist for Providence Bicycle, a sponsor of the show, and kinetic sculptor Donald Gerola of Pawtucket, who is represented here by soft washy abstract paintings and a whimsical green-and-yellow metal abstract sculpture inspired by a bike.

The show is heavy on so-so snapshots of bikes and mediocre action paintings of bikes blurring by that recall Italian Futurist art from a century ago or LeRoy Neiman. (As an aside, Mr. Neiman is due to be rediscovered, but this doesn’t do the illustrious Playboy illustrator justice.)

But check out monoprints by Mark Wilson of Wellesley, Massachusetts, based on photos of television images of the Giro d’Italia bike race. Wilson’s rendering is sweet and soft, as if we’re watching the racers speed by on a misty day. The paintings of Joshua CJG Robinson of Providence often resemble a more colorful, painterly version of H.R. Giger’s designs for Alien. However, his acrylic painting here of skull-squid-faced creature in a top hat and tails riding a bike has a jaunty carnival feel that — for me, at least — calls up warm memories of the Providence’s What Cheer? Brigade marching band.

Also, I’m intrigued by Jack Demerest’s modified bike. The Mansfield, Massachusetts, artist has tricked out the thing so it can stand it on end and play it like an electric bass. I wonder what it sounds like.

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Barack Obama, Melissa Small, H.R. Giger,  More more >
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