By Austen Diamond
Artist Steve Smock finds his muse in bicycles.
Steve Smock was working as a bike technician at Backcountry.com, when in 2009, he was invited to participate in his first gallery show. To complete a painting titled “Cognizant” for the group show at 15th Street Gallery, he had a lot of ground to cover in a week.
“My boss told me that I should call in sick–for a week–so I did,” Smock says with a laugh. “I painted day and night, and I loved every minute of it.”
“Cognizant” is one example of Smock’s hyper-realistic oil paintings inspired by bicycles. He nails the glint and grime of gears and the beautiful curvature of a bike. Smock also paints in impressionistic and abstract styles. In Utah, Smock has shown at 15th Gallery, Michael Berry Gallery, A Gallery, Weber State University, Bountiful Davis Art Center, and JGo Gallery. He has participated in the Chicago Bike Art Show, the oldest bicycle art show in the U.S.
Smock’s first show–and the opportunity to paint full-time for a week–became a pivotal moment for his trajectory into the art world and for combining his passions of biking and painting.
At 23, Smock moved to Utah from rural Indiana to take part in the cycling scene. He worked stints at a number of shops around Salt Lake City, but a nagging to explore art persisted. So, he set out to learn in an academic setting, where his passion began to take off. Lauded for his painterly skills, Smock was, self-admittedly, a terrible student.
“One professor just told me–really honestly–that if I wanted to be a professional artist, then I should stop chasing a degree and just go paint,” says Smock, whose body of work at the time primarily dealt with plein air landscapes.
“I loved painting landscapes, but I always just wanted to put a bike in the scene, to add some action, and, well, I guess just because I love the beauty of bikes and fluid motion,” Smock says.
Another professor, Fred Van Dyke, saw this and asked him why in the hell wasn’t he painting more bikes, only bikes, Smock remembers. The light clicked–or, rather, the gears shifted.
“Cycling was never a narrative in my artwork, but it became the sole narrative when I really began to think artistically about the cycling culture itself and its value in society,” Smock says.
It’s about form that’s functional. It’s about social responsibility. It’s about the most efficient machine ever created. It’s about beauty in geometry.
Cycling culture is multi-faceted, from bounding BMXers to hardcore commuters, from ramped-up road cyclists to fantastic fixies. There’s a wide appeal. And Smock’s art is gaining traction outside of the cycling community. “The people who are buying my stuff don’t even ride bikes, which I’m happy about, because it means that there’s a connection to the art itself, and not just to being a biker,” Smock says.
His art has covered much stylistic ground over the years. What began as a practice of rendering bike parts in photorealism–photographic, illustrative, almost technical in precision–evolved into more impressionistic paintings that had more movement and atmosphere.
After an accident injured tendons in his painting hand, Smock had to begin using a brace system, where he places his hand on a movable board he built. The actionable impressionistic paintings in his portfolio became more difficult to render, so he has evolved to create more minimalistic and abstract art. By reducing familiar elements of the bike, his new work doesn’t point directly back to bikes or bike parts. But something familiar remains.
Smock cites local artist Paul Bernard as an influence in terms of composition, and Andy Warhol because of his boundary pushing nature. More than anything, though. Smocks says that the work ethic he learned from his parents plays a bigger influence than other artists or modalities.
“I’m painting every day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and I can see myself evolving each day,” Smock says. After more than a decade of painting on and off in studios and at his home, he has found a permanent residence at Poor Yorick Studios.
With nearly 40 other artists at Poor Yorick Studios, the place bounces with creative thought. And on gallery stroll nights, like the one held March 2015, the place is bustling. Smock’s studio was packed, and he needs two of himself to keep up with the questions and sales. It made room for all of the new paintings he’s cranking out.
“I can’t wait to see where my art goes,” Smock says. “I don’t think I could ever run out of a narrative when it comes to bikes.”
For more information about Steve Smock Studio, visit SmockArt.com.