Maybe it was love at first sight — a wayward glance on a crowded street. Maybe you met through a friend or a family member and the first date was awkward and off-balance. Maybe, it didn’t seem like the right fit, but, over the years, the ride took you places you never imagined.
Yeah, our relationships are different, but one way or another, we all fall in love with our bicycles — and the way they make us feel. Taliah Lempert captures those sentiments on canvas.
The New York City-based artist is known widely in the cycling community for her bicycle paintings, that showcase the spirit and personality of the diverse bikes that bring us such joy and utility.
How did she fall in love with cycling… and marry that passion to painting? Read my interview with Taliah below — and hear more of her story when she joins us at the National Women’s Bicycling Forum on March 4.
What inspired you to start riding?
Bikes were a big part of family life growing up, more as recreation than transportation. We rode a lot, but I didn’t bring a bike with me when I left home for college and I didn’t think about it much for a long while. Years after I finished school and moved to New York, I bought a bike on a whim — it just caught my eye while I was walking down the street. I immediately got on and rode across the Brooklyn Bridge to work in Manhattan and have been commuting by bike ever since. I think that was 1996 or 1997.
What’s your bike style — commuting, racing, long leisurely rides on the weekend…?
I got all those kinds of style. My bike is my transportation, with rare exception. I do a lot of commuting. Sometimes I ride my fast street bike and it’s pretty racy. A lot of times, I’ll ride a more sensible bike that has fenders and racks. My racing days may be over, but I was a regular at Kissena track from 1999 to 2007. I’m usually up for a long ride on the weekend or days off, either headed up the Hudson, to Prospect Park or out to the Rockaways.
What’s your artistic background — how and when did you get into painting? Was bicycling your first creative muse or later inspiration?
I got into painting when I was about 16. It too was kind of a whim. I took an art class as an elective in high school and then, suddenly, one day I knew it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a painter. I’ve never thought twice about it. Before bicycles I painted groups of people and still life mostly. I still keep a sketch book and work regularly from the figure, make pictures of my family and draw still lives. My painting, printmaking and the work in my studio is all bicycles.
How did bicycling and art first intersect for you? Was there a specific bike that was your first love?
The bike that really got it started was a big Schwinn cruiser called the Klunker 5. It was a bike that Schwinn marketed as an early mountain bike. It was tremendous. Huge. Riding it through the city was wonderful. I was captivated. When I’d return to my bike, locked to a pole, it looked so great, I could see the painting already.
How have your bicycle paintings evolved over the years?
When I look back at my work, it’s like a journal: Different bikes and friends’ bikes through the years. The drawing has gotten more accurate and I spend longer on each piece. I’ve gone through periods where I focus on different aspects, be it in painting or about the bike.
What do you hope to convey in your paintings?
I want to convey the beauty in people and bikes. I love how cycling is such an uplifting thing, that we harness our own energy to move forward. It’s a powerful symbol, not just for riding a bike but for living well. I love that each bike I paint is unique and exists in its current form because of a specific person — and that it’s also a universal icon.
It must be such a joy to be able to make a living doing what you love — a dream for so many of us. What challenges have you overcome in making ends meet by bringing your passion to life?
I feel very lucky and happy that my painting supports me. Cycling, and especially the time I spent at the track, inspired the way I do business. To come up with a plan and go with it, with conviction. To define my faults and work to overcome them. Practicing to improve both painting and business. Making a living from my work didn’t happen immediately. I had been painting for about 15 years and painting pictures of bicycles for about three before I quit my day job (which was decorative painting and assorted odd jobs).
What advice would you have for other small women or bike-oriented artisans?
Be relentless. Keep trying. Make it happen.
If you had to choose to have just one bicycle painting in your home, which would it be?
The one I’m working on.
What are you painting right now?
I’m about to start a commission. It’s a mid-1980’s mountain bike. It was the bike that introduced cycling to the guy who owns it. He bought it new and rode it on trails and for transportation. He took it on a trip to Italy and rode it up mountains. It’s not his only bike, or his fanciest one, but it’s the one that started it.
Meet Taliah and hear more about her work at the National Women’s Bicycling Forum — register today!
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.