The faint smell of motor oil intensifies as you ascend into the upper galleries of the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center. The source? Motorcycles. Lots of them.
Curator Jina Pierce scoured bike collections across the country to stock the museum's summer exhibits, collectively titled Full Throttle: Underground Art and the Motorcycle. And while the bikes are the draw, the galleries are so chock-full of related memorabilia and artwork that the focus quickly shifts to the bigger picture of motorcycle culture, striking stereotypes and exuding cool along the way.
Inside the White Gallery, bikes, photography, leather jackets and an overwhelming amount of artworks and bike accouterments compete for attention. Here, the bikes steal the show, with the American collection reaching back to an 1817 replica Hobby Horse. From this peddleless bicycle, a chronological evolution of the American motorcycle is traced, veering through scooters to custom hogs. While many of a the bikes have traveled a long way to their current display, Pierce says she found three of the best collections -- from aficionados Pat Holmes, Don Mauger and Ronald Moreschini -- right in Pueblo.
A smorgasbord of some of the culture's most notable artists, including the pencil drawings of Colorado Springs resident Frank Miller, hangs from the gallery's walls. Forty-four original pieces by the late photographer, painter and illustrator David Mann, whose rise to underground fame is synonymous with that of Easyriders magazine, are perhaps the most popular. Still, younger bikers are more likely to celebrate the contributions of photographer Michael Lichter. More relevantly than his peers, Lichter captures the spirit, characters and revelry of the contemporary culture, beautifying where most merely portray.
The third-floor foyer gallery sweeps you across the Atlantic into European Addiction. The bikes are strikingly different here and quite novel. The accompanying artwork -- vintage posters -- soften the environment, but their graphic nature has a popular appeal that might undermine the underground theme if it weren't for their content. At least one French poster features a stylish FN; two real FNs -- on loan from Aspen collector Jack Silverman -- are parked nearby. Other Euro highlights include an old-school Motto Guzzi and the world's only fully original Monotrace, whose 1928 light bulb still functions.
The second-floor foyer works are perhaps the show's most daring and certainly the most deserving of the title "underground" -- if only because tattoo artists are still fighting for their rightful and iconoclastic piece of art history. Pueblo inker Rich Ives, owner of Steel City Tattoo, categorically falls into the more traditional, and most certainly biker, stylings of the form: busy with Native American themes, untamed and rare animals, lots of detail and darker coloring. Photos of his work surround Pueblo Chop Shop owner Gregory "Griz" Robinson's impressive collection of panhead Harley Davidson's.
Down in the Regional Gallery, Pueblo's favorite pin-striper commands the walls in Laying Down the Line: The Work of John "Large" Largent. Hot-rod and general car enthusiasts will appreciate the exhibit for its diversity and inclusion, interspersing multi-artist panels with Large's originally designed parts -- fender, hubcaps and hood ornaments included.
Full Throttle is a fully loaded excursion into a territory not commonly regarded for its artistic contributions. With it, the Sangre risks another brave foray into the underground and comes out on top.
-- Vanessa Martinez
Full Throttle: Underground Art & the Motorcycle
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, 210 N. Santa Fe Ave., Pueblo
Through August 27
Tickets: $4 adults, $3 children, free for members; call 719/295-7200 for info or see www.sdc-arts.org.