The art of the motorcycle is at the heart of David Mann Chopperfest
By Kelly McCartney 12/05/2013
Come Dec. 8, Chopperfest 2013 rides into Ventura. This annual event serves not only as a gathering for motorcycle enthusiasts, but also as a tribute to David Mann, an artist considered by many to be the “Norman Rockwell” of the genre. Mann’s work graced the centerfold of Easyrider magazine for more than 20 years. Though Mann passed away 10 years ago, his art continues to hang on the walls of shops and garages around the world.
“David spent a lot of time here in Ventura County and one of his most famous paintings is in front of the Shores Bar in Oxnard Shores,” says Chopperfest organizer Tory DuVarney. “In fact, 17 years ago, he and his wife, Jacquie, were married at one of our motorcycle swap meets at the Ventura Fairgrounds. It was a dual wedding with close friends David and Tammy Hansen.” That closeness continued for years and, eventually, birthed Chopperfest. DuVarney explained, “When David Mann became sick and passed away 10 years ago, the motorcycle community was devastated. David Hansen came up with the idea to have a memorial event at the Ventura Fairgrounds where they were married years prior. That is when the David Mann Chopperfest was born.”
What began as a memorial has since evolved into an annual motorcycle festival that draws some 5,000 builders, artists, riders, enthusiasts and fans of Mann’s art. DuVarney said, “His art captured the lifestyle and design of the motorcycle like no other.” Among the contemporary artists inspired by Mann’s work is Tom Fritz, who will be on hand at this year’s event.
Last year, Fritz painted a portrait of Mann that was featured on the cover of Quick Throttle magazine: “My aim was to reach the truest part of a man, an artist, who followed his convictions and defined the spirit of his life’s experience using the material of his passion. Through his imagination and brushwork, he raised a temple where a culture may come and celebrate itself. I know his wife, Jacquie, was genuinely touched when I presented it to her. As an artist, it was something that I felt compelled to do. And that was to celebrate David.”
“First, I admire David because he developed his own visual identity,” Fritz explained. “But when asked to describe his body of work, I find it disappointingly inadequate to simply toss off that David’s body of work described his core experience and translated his passion. It has to go way further than that. Ignoring taboo, he swung a leg and rode something that has a significance beyond anything that had been done before in the culture. He brought forth not only an awareness of the chopper as iconography, but he explored a greater aesthetic, a way of life itself. And he did so with an authenticity that underscores the subject.”
When asked about Mann’s influence on his own artistry, Fritz dug in deeper: “David created for himself an unmistakable and powerful visual identity. This has inspired me to bring my emotional capacity, my individual expression, into the game and have it play a major part in the ultimate result. The challenge is to bring character to the subject and express what I want to say.”
DuVarney observed that, when it comes to form versus function, “I would say that riders pride themselves more on the form, especially with early bikes, which is why you will see bikes with no suspension, or 16-inch-tall bars, or upswept pipes, or 300 rear tires, or no front brakes. The bikes that enter our bike show are works of art, and the builders are amazing craftsmen who have a vision like David Mann.”
Fritz’s participation in Chopperfest represents a convergence of the connections he feels to Mann, both personally and professionally: “For me, ‘personally’ and ‘professionally’ are almost one and the same. Chopperfest is not only a great excuse to leave the dungeon and take measure of the culture’s goings-on, but also an opportunity to exhibit the results of the long hours I spend in the studio.”
The cornerstone of Chopperfest is the “If You Build It, They Will Come” motorcycle show. The exhibit includes more than 35 artists. Joining Fritz in the lineup will be Vince Felix, the Indian Larry Legacy, Russell Mitchell, Kurt Morrow, Will Ramsey, Paul Cavallo and others. A $2,500 cash prize will be awarded for Best in Show. Other Chopperfest happenings include a bike builder display, the David Mann and Friends art exhibit (with an appearance by Jacquie Mann), a parts swap meet and various vendors, plus live music, food and beer.
Chopperfest takes place on Dec. 8, 2013, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5-$15. For more information, visit www.chopperfestival.com.