BY GERY SCHEMEL
When I entered Big River Customs I was face to face with a very cool custom chopper. To my left was a table covered with awards and trophies. There was no doubt this is definitely a bike friendly place.
With the smell of art thick in the air, Vicki, the artist I came to interview, greeted me warmly with a smile and a cup of coffee. During the ice breaking and coffee I looked around the clean and organized studio that has been home to both Big River Customs and Vicki Racer Art & Airbrush for the past 6 years. Works of art are displayed all over from several water colors, from her early days of going pro, to the fenders, tanks and other parts in various stages of being transformed into works of art. A neat row of parts already base painted, by Doug of Big River Customs, stood waiting to become art as well. One of the sets of bike parts are from the $1,700 custom paint job they gave away in connection with a local Bike Nite promotion last year.
Getting right down to the most asked questions: I found out she was around 6 years of age, back in St. Louis, when she first found her interest in art. Her professional career started about 20 years ago, just a few years after moving into the Quad City Area, doing airbrushing on t-shirts at fairs and swap-meets. Soon requests started to come in to do tailgates. That then lead to motorcycles and beyond to where she is at today. Some the places you can find Vicki’s mart work are: the goalie’s mask of the Mallards Hockey team, a baby grand piano, toilet seats, a carousel horse and the line of Fordzillas for a local radio morning show which all display her strength in airbrush. Vicki followed the list by saying “Yes my strength is with the airbrush I can do some pin striping but I leave the fancy work to artists like Jim Hetzler.” Her interest in art has ranged from painting as a hobby, thinking about teaching, getting into commercial art (graphic, computer, animation) to her new interest using stones, washed by the waters off the shores of Jamaica. She has made some very cool small mosaic pieces some with an old doorknobs incorporated into them. She smiled then laughed “I just love these stones and it is a real good reason to have to go back. And doing this is an escape, something I do for myself.” I asked her about any new or cool painting projects and she jumped up right away and had me look at some photos and books on the work bench of vintage race cars. Now I know your thinking race cars? But it was cool; a very dedicated collector of vintage racers has been having these pieces of history repainted as they were back in the days of their glory on the tracks all over this great land of ours. See I said it was cool. But when asked what the ratio of motorcycles to cars was she replied that is was about 70 / 30 with bikes being the majority of the work.
“So you got started painting professionally doing air brush on t shirts. Isn’t that a far cry from what you’re doing now? And just how did you make that change” I asked her. “Yes it is, but I still use my air brush. The switch from t shirts to metal took some time. You know learning the in & outs of working on a different medium and the different paints and techniques”. I notice the PPG Automotive Coatings on the sign outside what kind of paints do you use? “I only use House of Kolors paints but I have used paints that a customer has brought in”. What would you say your style is? “Well I would have to say it was realistic, I like doing the “Truefire” and ghost graphics the candy coat over to subdue the look of my artwork under it.” Of which subject matter(s) do you do your best work? “I really enjoy doing eagles, wolfs any furry animals, I’m really good at animals.” Ok now for some fun. Tell me what would be a dream job for you? “Well maybe doing something for one of Jay Leno’s cars or maybe if John Melloncamp ever gets back to me I would love to paint his bike.” Get back to you how’s that? “Well I had front row seats at one of his shows and I tossed a note up to him and my husband tossed a shirt to him, so all I can do now is wait for the call. Another dream job would be to paint Johnny Depps pirate ship for his next Pirate of the Caribbean movie.”
To contact Vicki go to www.bigrivercustoms.com