I STARTED airbrushing when I was 14-years-old. I got booked for riding unlicensed on a Triumph chop wearing a German helmet when I was 14 so I guess I’ve been building bikes for that long too.
I picked up a hotrod book when I was a little kid and saw a guy airbrushing dinosaurs down the side of a panel van and I though, “Man, I have to get one of those spray guns that when you press the trigger, a dinosaur comes out the end of it!”
I’m self taught. When I started there was only three or four painters in Australia who were airbrushing. I went to America when I was about 20 and I actually got to meet Arlen Ness when he was in a really small job; Corey was only 15 or 16. I also got to meet Horst who was working at Bay Area Custom Cycles at the time. I went to a couple of motorcycle spots in the USA and it seemed like there were airbrush artists everywhere; in Australia there were still only half a dozen. My visits to American helped me focus on learning airbrushing.
I guess I’m know for my skulls and flames. A lot of people just say, “Oh, I came to you because I want one of your skulls. I don’t mind doing them but I like to paint anything, from realistic portraits to just crazy graffiti style of stuff.
I don’t usually pre-plan anything; I’m really spontaneous. If I have to do something that has to be perfect, like an engine or a nut and bolt, I will do the layout first, then I will come back in and redraw it in that position. I would rather start with something and then just blast it on. I can do a detailed mural without using a stencil, but some times you freehand a whole painting and then just come in with a ’specially cut stencil and blow it in to crisp things up.
I have been tattooing for about 20 years. Going to America helped me here too. I’ve met some of the best tattooists in the world and now I consider them very good friends; I see them every year and talk to them every other week. I wasn’t happy with the way tattooing was heading in Australia and I looked at the best artists in the world and I went and hung out with them and learned their ways.
I turned my tattooing into the way I paint with an airbrush. I particularly like one style of machine that you can airbrush with it on the skin; it sort of turned my whole tattooing around and a lot of the stuff I airbrush and tattoo are very similar.
It’s the greatest compliment, I think, when someone sits down and says, “I want a Harley engine, a naked girl and a portrait of my child tattooed on my arm.” It’s an incredible responsibility and pressure. I can paint a mural and drink a beer at the same time but there is no way I would even dream of drinking when I’m tattooing. You really have to respect the canvass you’re working on, and when it comes to tattooing, the result will be with that person for the rest of their life.
My commitment to tattooing is pretty important to me in terms of developing and knowing what’s around. I judge a lot of shows and I get to do a lot of interviews to promote tattooing. I’ve been with the Health Department in Queensland to advise upgrading a lot of laws and licensing. I have a big circle of friends in the tattoo industry; even when we go out for dinner, we are talking about how to improve something in the tattoo world.
My bike is seriously old school. I used a lot of shaped steel and chroming, not too heavy on the moulding, and metal flake paint, of course. I set out to build a chopper the way they built them in the 60’s with the tank sitting up off the frame, the Z-bars, the long springer, the megaphones pipes, laced leather seat, jockey shift, the chrome ball oil tank, and the Knucklehead motor.
The old school Knuckle had to be a run bike so it’s 103 cubic inches with a five-speed box and belt drive. I’ve ridden it to Melbourne, Sydney and Mackay. Although it’s got really high gearing, it’s a low first gear; I can step off the clutch and it will take off without having to rev it.
I don’t want to do stretched tanks so I got two Fat Boy tanks, cut the inner skin walls off them and joined them together, removing the hollow from underneath at the same time. The thing holds 22 litres of fuel so I can go 300 km without refilling. I also made the oil tank which holds 4 litres of oil.
I’ve been a member of the Rebels since I was 21-years-old. I was probably the youngest member at the time. I’ve seen a lot of changes during my 25 years with the club and they’ve all been for the better…
pics by Walter Wall; words by Little Mick