David Mann Chopper Festival Artist Spotlight: Irene Airbrush

By Mike cupp

Irene Airbrush came to Southern California in 2016, immigrating from Odessa, Ukraine.  She sought out Ken Moreland’s shop and boldly went inside to ask for a job.  Her timing was impeccable, as Ken was frustrated with his current painter, and told her if she could paint his next bike, she had a job.  Needless to say, her work impressed Ken and the rest of the crew at the chopper shop.  And not only could she paint, she also did bodywork.  As they continued to work together, Ken wanted to create a one-of-a-kind project that would showcase Irene’s airbrushing skills and serve as a rolling billboard for Moreland Choppers. 

Ken had this old van, that may have been the inspiration for the Fast Times At Ridgemont High “blazing in the van” scene, but it was in rough shape from years of use.  Irene was up for the challenge and she dove headfirst into the bodywork, while Ken and his crew freshened the mechanicals of the 1976 Chevy van.  She would work on the body during the day, and sketch out the murals at night.  It was a long and grueling schedule, but Irene enjoyed every minute of it.  Ken was a friend of David Mann, and spoke fondly of his memories with him.  So the idea of using his work as the inspiration for the van seemed natural and would be a fitting tribute to their friendship.  Irene was already a Mann fan, so she didn’t need any further convincing.

Ultimately, Irene stitched two David Mann pieces onto one side of the van.  Another one went on the hood of the van, and then Irene created a Mann-inspired rendition of Moreland Choppers for the other side of the van. The end result is absolutely stunning, and we’re sure that David Mann would approve of her rendition of his classic painting, “Pacific Coast Highway,” originally published in Easyriders Magazine in 1972.

I visited Ken and Irene on a beautiful Southern California morning.  Ken is an old-school bike builder and racer.  As we walked around the shop, he would occasionally stop and point to a bike or a bike part and then share an amazing story about that item’s history.  It’s a working shop, but it’s also a slice of history from the glory days of choppers and bikers.

Irene was a bit shy with me at first, as she was worried about her English (most of it learned inside of a motorcycle shop).  As the day progressed, she started to open up as I worked my way through her studio, shooting the artwork on the walls, her sketches and the works-in-progress on her workbench. But once we hit the beach, her eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store.  She later told me that she loved being close to the beach, and likes to visit the shoreline to recharge her soul.

Irene Airbrush and the Mann Van will be featured in the Chopper Fest Art Show along with many other custom-culture artists exhibiting and selling their creations. It’s a great opportunity to get your last minute Christmas shopping done, or to pick up something for yourself.

Originally organized to showcase the illustrations of Easyriders magazine artist David Mann after his passing, the Chopper Festival has evolved into a 25 acre multimedia art exhibition. Up-and-coming and established artists from around the world will converge to pay tribute to David Mann, the Norman Rockwell of the biker world. The event features an all brand antique and custom motorcycle show, custom bike builder displays showcasing world class builders, custom culture art show, hundreds of motorcycle vendors, a new and used motorcycle parts swap meet and live rock and blues bands.

The “If You Build it They Will Come” All Brand Motorcycle Show highlights 22 classes of motorcycles from Antique and Old School to Twin Cam and Radical Design. The trophies are one-of-a-kind pieces created by custom culture artist Sonny Boy. Best in Show takes home $2,500 and $500 goes to best Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead, Antique and David Mann Memorial bikes. Check out the Chopper Festival website for more details and entering your motorcycle. Featured builders include Josh Allison, Dalton Walker, Anthony Robinson, Andrew Ursich, Aki Sakamoto, Mondo Porras, Russell Mitchell, Mike Tomas, Caleb Owens, Duane Ballard, Justin Phares, Jason Wilson. More TBA.

The 15th Annual Chopper Fest will be held Sunday December 9, 2018 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, Ca from 8am-4pm. General admission is $15, Military with ID $10; kids 12 & under get in free. Bike show registration is $40 and includes admission and event t-shirt. Go to www.chopperfestival.com for details.

David Mann was born September 10, 1940 in Kansas City, MO. He completed his circle of life September 11, 2004, one day after his 64th birthday. He was the Easyriders centerspread artist from 1971 – 2003.  His illustrations have influenced generations of artists, motorcycle enthusiasts and builders alike. He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the National Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2004. He is survived by his wife Jacquie Mann and their two children.