Bike to the Future

Page 2 of 3

Harley's fine-art program debuted in 1994. A corporate museum started acquiring original paintings and sculptures, and signed limited-edition prints were licensed and sold through dealerships. Before long, dealers were hosting the wine-and-cheese art openings that continue to this day.

Inspired by a new, booming market, Greg Segal began attending Harley dealer conventions to show off his business's Harley art. At many of these conventions, Uhl was selling T-shirts nearby.

"Finally David was inspired to paint something for me," Segal recalls. "We get submissions from artists on a daily basis, no lie. One out of twenty we'll really look at. But when I saw David's work, I knew this was it." That first painting, "Change in the Weather," shows a late-'40s-era man and woman in front of a gas station, their Harleys temporarily sidelined, a nasty weather front either approaching or retreating in the background.

"You look at her face, and you stare at it; you wonder what she's thinking," Segal says. "Has she had enough for the day? Is she going inside the coffee shop? What's inside the coffee shop? Who are these people?"

Uhl knows only that they're real. He found the people in an antique photo collected by Vinny Terranova, owner of Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson.

"Sure, I got my own archives," Terranova says. "All the dealers do -- except for these new dealers. They don't know the front from the back of a bike. They're just in it for the money, riding the wave."

Terranova's riding something of a wave himself. As a founding member of UGLY M.C. -- "it stands for Ugly Motorcycle Club, whaddya think?" -- he routinely rides with Hollywood types. He's also the one who introduced David Uhl to the biker world. "Well, yeah, I told him to design a T-shirt, and I got it to the guys at Harley," he recalls. "It was a Sturgis shirt, if I remember. It was the right stuff at the right time." (In fact, the shirt featured a frieze of V-twins carved into Mount Rushmore.)

Terranova's art openings, which often feature Uhl's work, are usually packed "with everyone," he says. "The retired pilots, the lawyers, the bikers. They are the spectrum, and they buy the spectrum. I own David's stuff, too. There's kind of a difference between him and everyone else. The antique stuff; it gets to me. It shows how it used to be."

One of the top ten Harley dealers in the country, Terranova continues to fly a skull logo above his store: a sign of how things used to be and a mark of distinction in tame times. And even though Harley headquarters has tried to move its merchandise away from the hardcore death-and-mayhem image, nothing -- nothing -- sells like a T-shirt with a skull on it, according to Stuckenschneider.

Although he never would have imagined it ten years ago, today Greg Segal attributes 80 percent of his business's earnings to biker art. Not one to argue with success, he's awaiting delivery of his first Harley, a centennial edition.

Two recently acquired Harleys are parked at Uhl and Stuckenschneider's downtown studio, located within shouting distance of the city jail. With 4,000 square feet of hardwood floors, a fireplace, hip furniture, computer equipment and a painting studio, the space is an advertisement for the anything-but-starving artist.

"I never had trouble selling myself," Uhl shrugs. He doesn't have trouble with humility, either. Or with embracing capitalism.

One of seven children, he came from Wisconsin to attend the Colorado Institute of Art on a full scholarship. Unimpressed by the program, he dropped out after two years. "All I wanted to do was draw and paint," he remembers. "They wanted me to do a bunch of other stuff. Anything you really want to know about art, you can find out at a museum. So I went to work as an illustrator."

Before long, corporate clients -- FedEx, Brookstone, even the CIA -- were paying big bucks for the ballpoint technique that Uhl had honed as a bored, doodling high school student. Twelve years ago, he brought Stuckenschneider into the business and began using the first person plural to describe most of the things that happen at his studio. Lately, Stuckenschneider's taken over much of the T-shirt business, but he, too, occasionally accepts illustrating assignments -- most recently, a series of ten drawings for the National Academy of Science.

"We learned about everything around here," Uhl says, riffling through old advertising display pages. "See, I drew the vascular system. I invented all these futuristic motorcycles and dragons and drew them. I drew Denver in the future -- you'll notice Boulder is in the air, because they've figured out how to break free from gravity. I drew a top-secret government helicopter and the bolts for an F-16. If you want to learn it, you can. When I got the painting bug, I went and looked at the old masters. Now I'm studying quantum physics, the direction of consciousness, that kind of stuff. You can teach yourself how the universe works."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff