Ventura architect and professional pinstriper Josh Weir has become accustomed to unusual requests. In the “kustom” world where kitsch is king, all three-dimensional items are potential canvases for the art form that was popularized by the late great Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard. So when Weir was asked by a Ventura Derby Darling to pinstripe her wedding gown for her Vegas wedding, his initial reaction was not “What the heck?” but rather “Heck yeah!”
“Hotrodders want everything striped,” says Weir.
Much as tattoos were before they went completely mainstream, pinstriping is another way to express individuality, and no two stripes are alike. What once was reserved for sporting equipment and motor vehicles can now be seen on everything from cell phones and Kitchenaid stand mixers to tools and toilet seats.
Legendary striper and lowbrow artist Jimmy Cleveland, or Jimmy “C” as he’s most commonly known, is currently in the process of pinstriping 700 guitars for Gretsch, a high-end musical instrument manufacturer. Cleveland, who helped another legendary low brow artist, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, mass produce the Rat Fink brand, remembers the days when the art of pinstriping wasn’t as forgiving as it is today. You couldn’t just wipe away a mistake, as you can with today’s paints.
Nevertheless, the art of the line still requires a steady hand and a lot of practice. “No alcohol at night, and no caffeine in the morning,” says Cleveland. Pinstriping, says Cleveland, “is really simple to learn, but hard to master.” Cleveland says of all the types of art he creates, pinstriping is the most challenging.
“You’ve got to stay on your toes, you’ve got to concentrate. You have the pressure and the actual concentration required to get your paint to the right consistency and to lose the shakes from too many beers the night before,” says Cleveland.
In learning to pinstripe, Weir has been well-served by his experience drawing architectural renderings. “Good architecture is a balance between creativity and the control of creativity,” he says. “That’s how I see striping. It’s very technical.”
Cleveland, along with Roth and Von Dutch, has been a big influence on the kustom culture movement, which loosely encompasses a bunch of subcultures from hotrodding and tattooing to fashion and home furnishing. He will be honored this weekend at the 11th Annual Back to the Beach hot rod and kustom kulture event.
John Parker, who began producing the event when its founder was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, has nothing but admiration for Cleveland, whom he chose for the award because of his “unselfish and major contribution to the hot rod and motorcycle community.” Some of Cleveland’s most celebrated work will be on exhibit at the event, and he’ll have his paints and brushes at the ready for anyone who’d like a Jimmy C original striping job. “He has talent oozing out of every pore,” says Parker. Josh Weir agrees. “He’s one of the greats, definitely one of the masters,” he says of Cleveland, adding, “He’s kept the bar high and given us younger kids something to shoot for.”
Before venturing into pinstriping and fabrication, Cleveland painted signs for on- and off-road car and dirt bike racing as well as boats. He lived alongside the Colorado River in Arizona, surrounded by a vibrant sporting culture. His signature lightning bolt, which he routinely painted on helmets, proved him a trendsetter and earned him a following even then.
But in the mid-’80s when Harley Davidson came out with the Evolution engine and sales went through the roof, Cleveland’s career took a lucrative detour. “That was the busiest time of my career, he told the Reporter. “That’s where I cut my teeth.”
Around the same time, Cleveland met Big Daddy Roth at a Rat Fink party, and the rest is history. Cleveland has a formidable collection of kustom art, including stuff from the old Roth studio, circa early 1960s.
In the last decade, Cleveland has seen a resurgence in the popularity of pinstriping. “People are getting into it now like the old days.” As with tattooing, though, it can get expensive. Pinstripers charge between $50 and $100 per hour. So, he says the smart way to do it is a little at a time.
In addition to Cleveland, who created the art for this year’s Back to the Beach poster, a handful of talented up-and-coming pinstripers will be on hand at the event. Among them are Mat Egan from Australia, who is pictured on the cover of this issue pinstriping John Parker’s car, as well as Makoto and Mister G. from Japan, and Hotdog from Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers.
Parker likes to bring kustom kulture veterans such as Cleveland to his events (he also produces the annual Primer Nationals) to give the younger crowd an opportunity to “connect the dots and meet these people, rather than just read about them.”
But should you stop by to shake hands with a true American idol, don’t bother telling him your name. “He’s a good guy, salt of the earth, but he can’t remember your name with a gun to his head,” jokes Parker. “I don’t know how many times I jumped his battery, but I’ll always be ‘Hey, dude’ to him.”