Q: Please tell us what your inspiration was behind this year’s Motorcycle Film Festival Poster. A: My brain is always thinking about art, motorbike art and what I can create. When asked to do the poster, I instantly had ideas, but needed to know which direction the MFF wanted to go. My inspiration comes from the years of filing ideas in my head, motorbike parts and what makes them work. Then combining the mechanics of motorbikes, the MFF and anything culturally related to both…
Q: What are your earliest memories of motorcycles? How does your passion for Motorcycles influence your artwork? A: My earliest memories are when I was maybe 5 years of age (1972), maybe earlier. My Dad would set me on the tank of his 1965 Panhead and we would go for a ride. Eventually he added a sidecar to the bike and I found myself growing up in this. As a kid, I spent time on the neighbor’s minibikes, dirt bikes and three-wheelers. At a very early age, the art of David Mann affected me profoundly and my life has been influenced by art and motorbikes ever since.
Q: Walk us through a typical day. A: My day usually starts between 5 and 6 a.m. I do my morning chores of opening up the house, making coffee, tending to our bulldog Royce’s needs, watering the garden, etc. I move to our dining room table, which is and has always been my drawing table. It is completely covered with pens, pencils, paper, tracing paper, light table, etc… I usually create one or two morning sketches, dedicated to the world of motorbikes and or hot rods. By the time the hour of 8 a.m., I spend some time with my wife, visiting, discussing the day and having more coffee. From here, I will move to my paint studio downstairs and work on current projects until about 10 a.m. I then head into my tattoo studio, where I tattoo from usually 11 am until 5 pm. I then return home, where I spend more time with my wife, before returning to my basement studio to paint. I typically surface from the basement around 10 pm, where I try to knock out another pencil sketch for the day. Depending on the day, I try to close my eyes around the midnight our. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later.
Q: What would you say your “style” of art is? A: If I had to label my style of art, I would say it is a warped perspective of traditional art, based on perspective, culture and history.
Q: What is your personal favorite motorcycle film? Why? A: Oh that’s so not a fair question…ha-ha…I like several movies for several reasons. “The Wild Angels” for wanting their freedom to ride their machine. “The Rebel Rousers” for the culture and style, “Every which way but Loose” and “Any which way you Can” for the vintage bikes of The Black Widows and for how goofy they were, to “Beyond the Law”, “The Babysitter” and many more for little detailed reasons.
Q: Tell us about your bikes, and which one is your favorite? A: I. Have several motorbikes. All of them are Harley based. Choppers, bobbers, flat track racers and stock. I’ve been collecting original parts for my 1950 panhead for about 3 years. I share a stock 1967 Harley with my Dad. It’s most likely my favorite, as that is the year I was born and I bought that for him as a Father’s Day gift a few years back, the year he turned 67.
Q: What’s your favorite annual motorcycle event? A: I enjoy Sturgis, simply for the fact that my wife and I get to see friends from all over the globe that we haven’t seen in a year’s time. That being said, the smaller motorcycle events are probably my favorite, as they are tucked away in beautiful little spot all over the globe, that know one knows about. After many years, that event gets bigger, too many people show up and we focus on another small event that is just coming up.
Q: What inspires you and keeps you creating? A: My brain is always thinking, even when I sleep, I am memorizing ideas that I want to create. My wife inspires me and is the reason I keep pushing myself everyday to become a better artist and person.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote about motorcycles or riding? A: “We just want to be free, free to ride our machines and not be hassled by the man.”
Q: Words you live by? A: “Stay True”
Q: What’s to come for Darren McKeag? A: Hopefully, accepting bigger art projects for more people, while navigating the globe with my wife Missy.
It has been a great pleasure each year to present award-winning filmmakers with the task of creating an original trailer for the following year’s festival. This opportunity to work with directors and film teams—and to provide them with funding and a loaner motorcycle—is truly an honor for us, and is only possible through the support of our partners. We are thrilled to present the 4th annual MFF trailer for: The Delivery by Filmmaker Paolo Asuncion. Powered by Honda.
MFF: What’s the premise for the trailer?
PA: When we heard that we had the honor of making this year’s trailer, the boys and I got together and in about 10 minutes we had nine or ten different ideas about what this trailer should be about. Is it about the subculture and how the MFF is becoming a melting pot of motorcyclists from all over the map? Or is it about the convergence of the filmmakers and the resulting divergence of ideas about what it is that constitutes a “moto film”? That conversation went off on a tangent and we started discussing our own plans about attending this year’s festival, and how getting time off from work and balancing family obligations are always hurdles. Someone said “fuck it, I’m going. No matter what it takes…” and that became the theme of the piece.
It’s all about getting it done. Whatever “it” is. Make and submit a film, attend the festival, or do both…do what you have to do to get there, no matter what is in the way, whether it’s fucking off from work or juggling family time. Or fighting off ninjas.
MFF: Who’s in the cast and crew?
PA: Robin Abert plays the hero (he’s a mechanic at O’Hanlon’s, a local motorcycle shop). Luis Baptista plays the guy he robs and also drives the camera bike. The Ramos brothers, Steve and John, play ninjas, as well as Allen Quindigan – who is a stuntman and who also choreographed the ninja alley fight scene. Frank and Erik Pascual play the Yakuza bikers and the luchadors, Hidenori Onishi plays the rockabilly gangster bodyguard, and my wife Jenn plays the big boss lady. The crew consists of Kirk as the second cam operator, myself as the main cameraman and fourth ninja, and my son Michael who acted as production support.
MFF: The trailer is filmed in one single tracking shot. Wow! What’s that all about?
PA: First we had to settle on a concept, and since we couldn’t agree, we took all the tropes and ideas we were throwing around and decided to put them all in one film. Then we started thinking about logistics, and how time consuming it was going to be to shoot so many scenes for a project that had an ASAFP deadline. The solution? Do it all in one shot.
Here’s how we did it:
Robin (our hero) enters the frame and knocks Luis to the ground and steals the loot. As Robin walks away and I follow, Luis gets up, get’s back on the bike and rides around the block and waits. As I follow Robin from behind, he is placing ninja throwing stars into holes that are pre-cut. As soon as this is done, I swing around so that now he is following me. We get to ninja alley and discover the first ninja who “throws” his stars at Robin. I walk backwards as Robin takes down the first ninja, then the second and third. I get to the fence and hand the camera (a GoPro mounted to a small steadycam gimbal) to another cameraman (Kirk) who has his arm held through the space between the planks of wood that make up the fence. I step into the frame as the fourth ninja and engage Robin. Since we are not recording audio, we are able to communicate and shout cues at each other. Kirk backs out and “slips through the fence” and as soon as he yells that he is in position, I go through the fence, landing at his feet, off camera. Robin walks past, Kirk pans over, I get up and take the camera back, follow Robin, and signal Luis to ride in and take position behind me so I can get on the bike while Robin mounts the case to the hero bike.
I’m now holding on to Luis, wearing a ninja outfit, covered in sawdust, holding a camera, filming Robin as he follows us down the street. We pass Erik and Frank and they give chase. We arrive at the delivery spot and I hop off the bike as Luis takes off to insure he doesn’t end up in the shot as Robin parks the bike. Erik and Frank – the yakuza biker assassins – arrive and Robin swiftly takes them out with the throwing stars that are still on his briefcase from the ninja alley fight. Frank and Erik drop, and as I swing the camera around, they get up, rip off their suits, take off their helmets, and take their positions inside the garage.
Robin stops short as he “discovers” Hidenory. Hidenory allows his passage and Robin enters the garage. Robin turns the corner and the camera – still filming the same shot -reveals the big boss lady, going from the ground up to her face to her extended arm, travelling across the samurai she is holding, and then panning over to Robin who hands over the case to one of the Luchador bodyguards (Erik). Boss lady (my wife Jenn) signals the other Luchador (Frank) that all is good and Frank hands the film reel to Robin.
We rehearsed the sequence in parts, and then as a whole a couple times, and then got the shot in one take. The end!! Whew!!
MFF: Tell us about a little about your Peoples Choice award winning film that made this trailer possible?
PA: Dirtbag 2: The Return of the Rattler is the answer to the question that is posed in the first Dirtbag Challenge documentary: Can you build a bike for under a thousand bucks and in under a month if you have no experience whatsoever? Since we were the epitome of “no experience”, we decided to take the challenge and film the whole thing to prove that it can in fact be done. But really, making the film was an excuse to hang out. Between making the first film and the sequel, we all got married and had kids and life kinda just got in the way of hangin’ out. Creating the sequel together, building the bike, recording music for the movie…getting to hang out again was the real reason we made a movie. I think it shows in the film and I think it’s what the festival viewers responded to when they selected the film to win people’s choice.
MFF: How did you find out about the MFF?
PA: We screened the first Dirtbag Documentary “The Dirtbag Challenge” a couple times here in San Francisco, and people seemed to enjoy it. I began to wonder if it was because the audience was familiar with the event, and I wanted to know if the movie would play well with people who weren’t familiar with the Dirtbag Challenge. I started looking into film festivals online, and that’s how I found you guys.
* The Dirtbag Challenge was an official selection film of the 2nd annual 2014 MFF
MFF: Have you attended?
PA: Yes! I’ve been to the 2nd and 3rd MFF events.
MFF: What are you working on now?
PA: Our last movie was about building a bike, and a lot of the films we see online are about the bikes themselves, or the people that build or ride them. Given those two elements, we are attempting to make a movie that illustrates the connection between the bike and the rider, while at the same time, we want to show the viewer what it takes to “build” a moto film. We are trying to show that it’s about content, not gloss. It’s kind of an experimental piece, where it has narrative elements in it, but also a behind the scenes feel to some parts of it. We’ll see how it goes. But again, besides wanting to tell a story, I get to do this with my buddies, we’re using music that my band wrote and recorded, I get to edit, my wife is even involved in this one…all of my favorite things in the world are in this one project.
MFF: Anything else you’d like to add?
PA: If you like chicken fried steak, try applying the same recipe to Spam. Oh my god, so good.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this year’s Motorcycle Film Festival poster. Where did you begin and where did this piece take you?
Paul d’Orleans and I met at the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin. He saw my drawing in the Oil & Ink traveling print show there, and he and Corinna Mantlo contacted me because they wanted something a little different for this year’s poster.
One of the trademarks in my artwork is how I blend different imagery and themes together. For the poster I wanted to counterbalance the serious imagery of the crashing vintage bikes with a fabulously swirly font. I do a lot of gold-leafing in my smaller drawings and incorporating it into the poster was a fun way to keep things from getting too serious. The gold is inspired by Renaissance icon paintings, but I love that it has a bit of a 70’s vibe going on.
Any hidden meanings or tip of the hat mentions that we might have missed in the poster?
Of course! I’m working on reinterpreting and modernizing old myths in my drawings and was thinking about the story of Icarus getting too close to the sun when I drew the bikes falling from the sky.
The texts at the bottom were inspired by some set typed lettering I saw during a studio tour here in Austin. I wanted to use a font that was classic with an edge; something that felt masculine and feminine at the same time. I landed on the beautiful Jefferson Gothic font which is bold but has these odd little details, and I drew it out by hand so it would blend with the drawn bikes in the poster.
What are your earliest memories of motorcycles? How does your love of this pastime inform your drawings and paintings?
I actually didn’t have a motorcycle until I was in my 20’s, but I grew up on a horse farm and practiced stunts and did a lot of trail riding on my horse as a kid. From the time I got my license, driving was my passion but since I couldn’t afford my dream car I worked overtime and bought a bike instead. Riding the bike felt really natural because when I’m balancing and standing on the pegs on the trails it feels like riding a horse.
In college I studied landscape painting and unsurprisingly gravitated to scenes with cars in them. As time went on I realized the landscape wasn’t as interesting to me as the vehicles were so I sharpened my focus. Cars are blocky though, and using them made it difficult to compose the paintings the way I wanted.
Since I’d always been really impressed by big Renaissance battle paintings I wondered if I could recreate their grand, epic qualities in my artwork. I started playing around, making weird drawings of dirt bikes flying through the air to mimic the angel babies that activated the top portion of those paintings. Before long I was subbing in motorcycles for horses too. I absolutely fell in love with it, especially since the flying bikes are logical but they also crack me up.
Painting, for now, has fallen to the wayside. Using pencil lets me mash together a bunch of different colorful content and make it look subdued and somewhat regal. Plus, I can make drawings that are absolutely huge and move things in the drawings around without waiting for anything to dry.
What’s a day in the studio or off the track like? Please share your process with us.
I’m a slow riser. In the morning I make coffee, reply to emails, plan my drawings, work out, and make lunch. Then when I get to the studio I dive in. I’m working on a lot of different projects right now, which is great because I like to bounce around. I’ll work on a gigantic drawing for a while, and when I get stuck or bored with it I’ll switch gears and work on a tiny intricate gold-leaf drawing or a commission. It’s my balance through extremes. I usually work right up until bedtime.
In addition to the Renaissance, what periods of art history inform your work?
I looked at a lot of artists when I was an undergrad like Antonio Lopez Garcia, Balthus, Paolo Uccello, Edwin Dickenson, and Mark Bradford, but now I’m more inspired by nonart stuff. Cinema and mythology, especially Native American, are big players for me. A lot of my drawings are meant to feel like film stills; freeze-framing action, or giving the viewer the eerie feeling that something just happened or is about to. I also read a lot of mythologist Joseph Campbell’s books, most recently The Hero with 1000 Faces. It basically lays out the formula for hero myths, which is finding its way into my drawings.
Favorite motorcycle film?
There are certainly a lot of great lesser known films, but the original Mad Max has been my favorite for a long time because of the way George Miller combined fear, adrenalin, pageantry and an insane amount of creativity into such a tiny budget. Miller is from Australia where “the dreaming” is an important cultural mythology, and it’s rampant in his films. While I was researching hero myths I watched Mad Max several times to see how he adapted the structure, and it’s amazing how much it conforms to the hero myth framework.
Most memorable bike you’ve ever seen?
Call it love at first sight, but the first bike that first caused me to rubber neck was a BMW F600 Dakar edition with the blue, white, and red flag painted on the gas tank. I don’t have one (yet) but when I bought my bike I was inspired by the Dakar and got a dualsport. Two years ago I had a layover in Dakar and felt like in a small way I’d scratched something off of the bucket list.
Favorite annual moto event?
The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin is my favorite, but I’m so excited to head up to NY for the Motorcycle Film Festival this September! I’m thinking it might be a tie.
What inspires you? What keeps you creating?
When I started drawing motorcycles I never dreamt that it would lead me into a network of so many great people, and that there would so much to learn about different motorcycle subcultures. Always learning new things, staying just outside of my comfort zone, and being able to use art to connect with others keeps me creating and makes being an artist the best job ever.
Favorite quote about motorcycles or riding?
When I was getting my M license one of the first things the instructor said was “When you think you have nothing more to learn, get off of your bike and walk away”. I’m drawn to things that can’t be completely mastered. With riding there’s always a touch of fear and respect involved because of all of the unknown variables. I like that there’s an intense focus about riding that I often gets lost in other parts of our lives. Words you live by?
“Practice and all is coming”
-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
It’s a yogi quote that implies that the end result isn’t the goal. If you’re able to be present in the moment you’re already there.
What’s to come from Rachel Wolfson Smith?
I have a big solo show coming up in Austin that opens July 22 where I’ll unveil my largest pencil drawing to date at 10’ x 21’, and several new 8’ drawings. It’ll be a crazy show, and it’s hosted at a great gallery here called Gray Duck. I also have a bunch of interesting side projects and commissions keeping me busy that I’ll be sharing on Instagram over the next few weeks.
The best way to keep up with me is through Instagram via: @wolfsonsmith
Any MFF exclusive you’d like to share with us? Something that people don’t know about you, your work, or your process?
It may sound silly, but I love listening to rap music when I draw and my dream is for one of my giant drawings to hang in Ludacris’ house.