Finding passion in a our lives is certainly something we all strive for - to have one passion lead us to another and yet another seems ..... well, just wonderful.
As a young painter trying to survive and find her direction in NYC, Taliah Lempert first found the bicycle, then she found Dave, and then she found a way to combine them all in her paintings.
I, personally, rediscovered Taliah and her work recently through a listing for her bicycle coloring book at R.E.Load's messenger bag website.
As soon as I clicked through to her website I realized that I'd seen her work on-line several years ago - well before the gallery had come into existence, and far before I ever envisioned that the gallery might feature her interview. Ah, but now I was hooked.
Flipping through the images of bikes with shifters and those without, I realized that here
was a woman who not only painted bikes, but one who also knows that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach when you swing a leg over the saddle and take off for a ride; or when see that image of a gorgeous, sleek, balanced bike that you just know to be your exact size. And I knew that here was someone you all would like to meet too.
With a trip to NYC being out of the question for me at the moment, I emailed Eric Ambel (RoscoeNYC at the forum) to see if he knew anyone who could do an interview with Taliah and get a few photos of her studio and of her riding her bike.
Eric replied "Of course I know Taliah, I rode with her and a friend last weekend on the NYC Century, I'd love to do an interview for the gallery." Eric shot a few photos during his visit and Taliah's friend and professional photographer Amy Bolger shot the rest.
Eric: Where are you from Taliah?
Taliah: Well, I was born in Houston, Texas and I grew up in Ithaca, NY. I went to art school at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and I came to New York in '89 or '90.
Eric: So, were your parents artistic?
Taliah: Yes, actually, my Dad built furniture and my Mom did weaving and stuff like that.
Eric: Then, how early did you get into painting?
Taliah: When I was in high school, it was funny, I always thought that I started late, I think I was a junior in high school and I just decided, one day I just decided that I wanted to be a painter - I think I was about 15.
Eric: So, you got your bachelor's degree from where?
Taliah: The Museum School in Boston.
Eric: And your masters?
Taliah: The New York Academy of Art, I went to school in Boston, and then I went for a year or so and I kinda felt like I'd gotten too closed with my painting, where I didn't know how to improve my skills. I felt like the paintings I was doing were at the top of my abilityt and it wasn't really my choice of what I was painting.....yet I was painting. So I went to the New York Academy of Art - it was really boot-camp for drawing - it was about learning how to draw in a traditional way, a figure-based way.
Eric: And so you were drawing, was "Art" your major then?
Taliah: I majored in painting.
Eric: What did you paint before you started painting bikes?
Taliah: People, I'd always been interested in painting figures, I painted lots of people then, and maybe a few still lifes.
Eric: In the 80's I had this band called the Del-Lords, and to get away from the music scene I started hanging out with a crowd of artists based called the Rivington School who had an after hours bar called "No Se No". I saw how these artists were looking for and found their own style which to me was like a musical 'riff'. Art made more sense to me then. Looking at your work, it looks like the bicycle is your riff.
Taliah: Yeah, exactly.
Eric: When did you discover your riff, when did you feel like you "got it?"
Taliah: Well, when I went through this period where I started commuting by bike, probably about ten years ago. I just bought a bike and I was living in Cobble Hill and I'd been there a couple of years and I had the morning off from work, and I saw this bicycle in the window of a bike shop.
I was just walking around and there was this cute little folding bike in front of this bike shop and I just saw it, and I bought it on impulse. It was really weird, because I'd cycled as a child but I'd just stopped as I got older. I just saw this bike, it was like eighty bucks, and I thought "that's such a great looking bike" and I just bought it on impulse and rode it straight from there to work. I remember asking this guy "how do I get to the Brooklyn Bridge?" And it just opened my world, and I remember riding it up and over the hill on the Bridge and thinking "If I have to get off and walk this bike, then I've just blown eighty bucks."
So, I just started riding it everywhere, and then got another bike, and then, they became a huge part of my life and I started painting them - I think it's important to paint what's going on in your life, what's exciting to you, I didn't expect it to lead to so much.
Eric: Do you still have your first bike painting?
Taliah: Well, hmm, right before I started painting bikes I was doing paintings of my feet (laughs) and then some paintings of my legs, and I don't know if that first painting was of my bike or of this unicycle that a friend gave me. It just went on from there.
Eric: Your work is in all different sizes, what materials do you use?
Taliah: I use a lot of different things, the bigger paintings are in oil, I like the way oil looks on certain surfaces - oil can get more illusionistic than other mediums.
Lately I've been doing a lot of acrylic paintings as well - for the smaller ones. I did a lot of acrylic on paper, I like the way acrylic looks on a raw paper surface. You can use oil on paper, but the oil will leach out into the paper and destroy it. Acrylic looks grteat on paper, but I hate the way it looks on other surfaces. Sometimes I use egg-tempera too, it's an even older medium than oil paint.
Eric: The business of art is a wild thing, like the business of music. You know a friend once told me that as soon as your put a price of a piece, you have created commercial art. You seem to have developed art in a whole range of price points from big paintings all the way down to your coloring books and note cards and smaller hi-res prints.
Taliah: I've been making a living off my work for a little over five years, the people who buy my work & commission paintings are awesome. I offer things at a wide price range so it's affordable. Selling work hasn't changed the way that I paint, because people like the way
that I'm painting already and also the pieces that I sell may not be the most recent ones. I don't paint to sell work, though its great when It happens and I really appreciate the support. I paint because I love what I'm doing.
I have a few galleries that sell my work, but you know it's really my website. The internet is really going to change things for artists
Eric: And musicians as well.
Taliah: Yeah, I used to send out postcards to everyone that I thought might be Interested, and to those that responded I sent a group of color xeroxes , and sometimes made a sale that way. Then two people who had my work, said "why isn't this on the internet? You need have a website" That was about six years ago. And now it's amazing, I still advertise with postcards and people all over the world see my paintings..
Eric: Have you done any public art or any commissions that are in public spaces?
Taliah: I'd love too, I haven't had the opportunity yet.
Taliah: Only in school.
Eric: When you have a show somewhere, have you ever painted right there, like an artist-in-residence?
Taliah: I'd love to do an artist-in-residence project. I paint from observation with the bike posed in the studio. It would be cool to do a project where people brought their bikes In for me to paint, then at the end, have a show of the paintings.
Eric: When is your next show?
Taliah: Well, I'm kinda winding down right now from a lot of different shows, and getting back with the paint. I don't have anything definite scheduled right now but I'm looking at things for the spring.
Eric: When I look at your work, the coloring book....the coloring book is just so cool.
Taliah: Thanks, I just imagined it as ....well, I like the ideas of process, and I liked the idea of other people, like little kids, just coloring all over on the drawings.
Eric: Everyone has a bike love story. I wasn't sure before today if you'd been cycling for a long time, or if you were like me, one of the people who rediscovered cycling later. Once I started, I was just so hooked. Do you have any stories?
Taliah: I want to write a story about my track bike, I got it on eBay, and then later I got an email from this woman who used to own it and raced it back in the 80's. I'm interested in that journey, you know that a bike takes, I wonder where it's been - it would be interesting to write a story about that. (dennis: The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland)
Eric: When did you get your first fixed gear bike?
Taliah: (laughs) Ah, my first fixed gear. That was a while ago, about '96 or '97, I'd been riding this big cruiser made by Schwinn and one day I realized I wanted the opposite of it. I went to this bike shop, to Dave's bike shop and I said "Dave, I need the opposite of my bike." I need something simple and fast and elegant with just nothing on it and he shows me (Taliah pulls it down) ...
Eric: That's a track frame, not a conversion.
Taliah: Yeah, he pulled this down, they'd just got it from the police auction, and...
Eric: What is it?
Taliah: It's a Duraycle Moth, but at the time I didn't know what it was, and Steve Klein was working there, and was like, "Oh, you don't want that" and I'm like "Yeah, I want it!"
Dave said "I'm not sure were're selling it yet." So, I had to go in there pretty much every day for a week or so to get them to sell it to me.
Eric: Those are pretty long cranks, eh?
Taliah: My Dad used to race track bikes back in the 50's - he'd ride without brakes and with wood rims over the Tri-Borough Bridge to the track - I think it was where Shea Stadium is now - and it was people from all different nationalities that would come out and race, and he just loved it. He just loved to talk about how cool it was there.
Eric: So, who took you out to the track the first time?
Taliah: The very first time I went to the Kissena I drove this car I had rented for work. My friend Jered - do you know him? Well, I went to watch him race, and well soon I started riding, and then practices, and well, then I was just hooked.
Eric: And Dave? How did you meet Dave?
Taliah: Do you remember Dave's bike shop? It was in a garage on 3rd Street - right next to the Hell's Angels place It was a big garage, a bunch of bike-related businesses were in it. I went in there because that big Schwinn cruiser always seemed to need something. I went in there looking for parts and he had all these amazing bikes.
I went back to him when my bike broke. It was really difficult to ride that sixty pound bike over the Brooklyn Bridge when it had a broken rear axle. I went to all these bike shops and they'd all try to sell me something else, a new bike, a whole new wheel or other stuff. Then I went into Dave's shop and he fixed my bike for, like, eight bucks.
Eric: And then the romance began.
Taliah: He fixed my bicycle, well, I went to everybody and nobody would fix my bicycle and he fixed it and ...... "here, I am." (laughs)
Eric: He has a ton of enthusiasm.
Taliah: He was cycling at a pretty high level in the late 70's
Eric: I've seen that team photo of him with Greg LeMond and Tom Ritchey - those are guys that are like cycling gods - it's exciting.
Taliah: Yeah, he know a lot of great people.
Eric: So, do you work on your own bikes?
Taliah: Not as much as I'd like - Dave has to help me a lot. (laughs)
Well, I fix my own flats, I change my gears and my tape.
Eric: Well, it's simple you know, I got some tools just a couple months ago and it was, like, wow, I just built a bike!
Eric: So, what are your main bikes these days?
Taliah: My Duracycle Moth is my street fixed gear, and I have an old Bianchi road bike with downtube shifters, for the street, and then I have my track bike for the trackÖ
Eric: What's your track bike?
Taliah: It's a Bob Jackson.
Eric: And that's the one that the gal emailed you and that you got on eBay?
Eric: How much do you ride - like, how often?
Taliah: Well, my bike is my transportation pretty much, and so I pretty much ride someplace everyday and then I ride with my friends out to Nyack, I ride a lot just for fun - you know, out somewhere.
I raced a lot during the summer at the track, I've been racing at least once a week. Some of my friends are putting on a great series of night track bike races out at Prospect Park, sometimes there's teams of two, sometimes three, often a time trial - that kind of thing. Three weeks ago it was a mass start.
Eric: Now, Prospect Park is a 3.35 mile loop?
Eric: With a couple good hills.
Taliah: One up, one down, and at first I was a bit afraid to race a fixie there because on the street I just really didn't bust it out, so when I had to go down some hills - you know? It's dark and all deserted, but it just feels so great.
Eric: I like to ride in Prospect Park but I haven't made it out there to the Thursday Night Races. They start pretty late!
Eric: What's your city gear and what's your track gear?
Taliah: The street bike is like a 44x16 to ride out to the track it's a 48x17 and to race a 48x15 - I just moved to an 86 inch gear.
Eric: What's your favorite NYC ride?
Taliah: I like riding out to the track - out and back are so different.
Eric: I've never been able to figure a very direct way in and out of there (Kissena Park, Queens). I usually take my truck.
Taliah: Yeah, it's so easy to get lost going out and back, you've got to go with someone who knows the way a few times.
Eric: How about riding out-of-town?
Taliah: Oh, the Nyack ride for sure.
Eric: What bike were you riding on the Century?
Taliah: Oh, (laughs) the Pink Bike - you know somebody brought it into Dave's shop, just the frame, and it was just so plain, just said Campagnolo on it - and it was my size. So, it's like, just perfect.
Eric: What's you most important setup on a bike, what was the final thing that you did to make it all come together, what's your favorite component on the Bob Jackson?
Taliah: It was just perfect when I got it. I love the frame, I love the cranks, I love the hubs.
Eric: What are the parts?
Taliah: It's all Campy except for the rear wheel - that's a Phil Wood flip-flop. I've had the group since 1999 and rode It on 3 different frames. I've painted those Campy track cranks a lot, I like the smooth shape of them.
Taliah: I don't care much for the chainring on the Duracycle Moth, but I love the Merckx fork, you know there's lots of different parts on these other bikes.
Eric: What do you think about the fixed gear explosion?
Taliah: I think it's great, I just love all kinds of bikes, but there's something special about fixed gears.
Eric: I just love it when you come up behind someone and you're just so quiet.
Eric: (laughs) So how happy are you about the removal of the speed bumps on the Williamsburgh Bridge? (between the East Village in Manhattan and Williamsburgh , Brooklyn...over the East River).
Taliah: Oh, I'm so happy - that just improves the quality of my life tremendously, those speed bumps sucked.
Eric: I go back and forth everyday, they were just awful.
Taliah: It's awesome, hooray!
When Eric came over to Taliah's studio for this interview, he also dropped off his DeBernardi for Taliah to paint. You can check on the development of this work by clicking on this image.
Thereís a couple events coming up,
Iíll have some work in the Small Works Show at The Harmon Gallery in Wellfleet, MA
Thereís an opening reception on Saturday, November 26, 5-7, the show is up through the end of December, the gallery will open weekends Saturdays 10am - 5pm, Sundays 12 - 5pm
And I have a piece in a raffle to benefit the New Orleans Bike Build project, http://www.moscarda.com/nobb/katrina_content.html which is sending 10 NYC bike mechanics, including my good buddies Arone and Jared, to New Orleans to build bikes for the people.
The benefit is on Tuesday November 29th, 6-11pm, itís $10 to get in, it will be a good time for a good cause!
Raffle tickets are 1 for $5 and 5 for $20
We hope that you found this interview with Taliah to be interesting. For more photos of Taliah's work and more stuff about bikes visit her website at www.bicyclepaintings.com
or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact Amy Bolger visit www.amybolger.com
Dave's bike shop is www.bikecult.com.
Eric Ambel's website is www.ericambel.com
All paintings copyright to Taliah Lempert. All photos copyright to Amy Bolger and Eric Ambel.
Coming soon - Interview with Anton Quist.