The home of Canadian pen and ink artist Michael Keirstead has echoed a rhythmic ratta-at-tat for most of the past two decades; the delicate tapping succumbing to the occasional four stroke chrome-clad roar from the garage. Naturally, the neighbours appreciated the substantial musical accompaniment and the constant buzz of conversation and laughter from the ever-present family and friends!
In this household, everyone is drawn to the ratta-tat-tat from the Art Studio, and the driveway served a continual stream of 2-wheeled traffic. The Art Studio is where it all went down. You see, while the rest of us were tinkering with our motorycyles and doing that 9-5 thing, Mike was busy in his studio with an additional passion: the dotting. Ratta-tat-tat.
This crazy guy came up with the idea to mastermind a drawing, which would bring together the faces of over one hundred of the most influential contemporary musicians and chronicle the evolution of rock music. However, it was not to be simply be a drawing, “The Jam” would be a HUGE drawing: four feet high and eight feet wide. Big enough to make a piece of plywood shake in its boots. Mike was to spend months selecting which musicians to include and where to place them relative to one another so that a story would be told.
“The Jam” followed Buddy Holly and Elvis through to Motown, Folk, the British Invasion, Heavy Metal, and Punk, including classics such as The Stones, Doors, and Beatles. Mike soon discovered that a task of this scope would not be completed in a single summer, especially because the gargantuan masterpiece he envisioned would not be a sketch, but a stipple: a pointillism, comprised of little dots made with a black ink pen.
Ratta-tat-tat is the sound his pen made as it contacted the canvas. Ratta-tat-tat is the sound the tunes muffled when they were cranked. Ratta-tat-tat was the only sound that could be heard late into the afternoons when Mike worked in solitude, hoping his vision would one day be complete. Each little dot worked with each other little dot to create the shading and form which fools the eye into seeing a picture. The farther apart the dots are, the lighter the tones; the closer together the dots are, the darker the tones. The project, begun in 1979, took him eight years and would have driven him mad if not for his motorcycle.
You see, Mike was working on another project; rebuilding a 1973 Triumph Daytona 500 to have a customized tank, six-foot forks, dazzling chrome, and a luscious Springer front end. The Triumph also made a ratta-tat-tat sound (oops!), but he was hoping for a purr, a humm and was willing to put in the effort and elbow grease and learn more about bikes in the process. Speaking with Mike about it now, he says that the detail of rebuilding and customizing his Triumph ran parallel to the attention to detail that was required to complete the faces on “The Jam”.
As each bolt was chromed, the bike would slowly come together much the same way as with each completed face the artwork would come together. At times when the artwork seemed too painstakingly slow, it was refreshing to do something physical with his body: welding, lifting, sweating, getting dirty, using his mind for something 3D, instead of sitting still dotting, getting a hand cramp, being ultra clean and not smudging, and working in two dimensions. Mike would dot for a while then build his Triumph for a while, then dot, then go for a spin on his rigid 1978 Shovelhead.
Towards the end of that eight year dotting period, after numerous bolts were taken down the road for re-chroming, the finished Triumph was given its reins and Mike was finally able to take her for those re-energizing rides he needed so much. The theory was, if the chopper could be finished, so could “The Jam”: Mike was spurred on, but there was a nagging thought in his head, is your custom classic bike ever really completed? Isn’t there always more tinkering to do?
This same conflict is what Mike was up against with his artwork, too. There were far too many talented musicians to recognize than could possibly fit into “The Jam”. Rock music had not stood still and exciting bands were emerging all over the place. The canvas was full, but the story of rock was incomplete. There was only one solution: “The Jam” would have to become part of a series of artworks, its full name would be “The Jam Part I – A History” and Michael would eventually have to stipple a “Part II”.
In 1986 “The Jam Part I – A History” was finished and Mike sold many thousands of the poster-sized versions and 300 original sized 4 x 8 foot Limited Edition silk-screens to people at rock festivals and to his fellow bike-enthusiasts. Every self-respecting music fan seemed to want one or to have one hanging on their walls. The sales of these prints took the “starving” out of “starving artist”. As a reward for his artistic efforts, Mike soon acquired a 1985 Heritage Softail and headed out to B.C. to spend his time cruising the Coquahalla. In BC he met his patron, a fellow bike-enthusiast.
His patron’s first commission was a “Jam” Motorcycle: a custom paint job based on Keirstead’s copyrighted, “The Jam Part I” artwork airbrushed onto a Kenny Boyce framed 108 cubic inch SS. Permission was granted and the airbrushing on the tank and fenders was magnificently sprayed by Todd Goggal. Sweet! The bike was on display at the old The Dayton Boot Co. Ltd. location on Granville Street in Vancouver.
Once settled in BC and with the help of his Medici-esque patron, began the intense work on the second “Jam” artwork full time. While dotting the second “Jam”, Mike acquired the custom 1982 FXR Harley (which he currently rides) and also began to rekindle his boyhood love of dirt biking. He began collecting Honda CT70s and Honda Enduros. When he was 9 years old Mike would bomb around his family’s Uxbridge, Ontario farm on a Honda CT70, and now he was teaching his two kids and his girlfriend to ride. It looks like some things just get passed on from generation to generation. His girlfriend Lola has mastered the CT70 and has now moved up to the Enduro. She is now teaching her girlfriends to ride the trails at their home.
History again repeated itself when Mike was dotting his second piece “The Jam Part II – Long Live Rock & Roll”, as he again spent many a year doing the ratta-tat-tat dotting interspersed with a biking. But this time, it was riding the dirt trails near his home in the Okanagan Valley that provided the much needed release from his painstaking art. “The Jam Part II” was begun in the mid-1990’s and completed in 2002. It continues telling the story of rock music and again depicts over 140 musician faces plus elements of the rock lifestyle. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kurt Cobain, Tom Cochrane and many others grace this masterpiece.
To those in the know, “The Jam” has become a legacy, and now that the second in the series has been completed, a bridge has been built for generations of music lovers. Plans are in the works to commission another “Jam” motorcycle; Mike is thinking perhaps “The Jam Part II” will be airbrushed onto a Road King this time. Or perhaps he’ll have it airbrushed onto his first love, his old Triumph?