The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio (United States, 37 min 25 sec)

Directed by: Thomas W. Campbell

Written by: Thomas W. Campbell

Cast: Linus Coraggio

The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio is a film about an artist with an obsessive love for Motorcycle Art. Coraggio has created over 90 Motorcycle sculptures of metal and other materials since 1986. An outsider artist who works in many mediums and at many scales, he was a founder of the Rivington School of Art in the East Village in the early 1980’s and the architect behind the Gas Station, a seminal and notorious art installation/community/concept “outstillation” that was demolished amid a wave of gentrification in 1996. The film includes a sequence from 2009 of Coraggio working in his Bushwick studio and chronicles six months in the present day life of the artist as he explores the rich and classical tradition of how his Motorcycle Art fits into the dreamscape of American consciousness. With original music by the filmmaker, the soundtrack also includes an excerpt from Jazz Toccata On a Bach Theme, written in 1940 by the experimental composer Henry Brant, who was Linus’s father.

Review:

A messy art renaissance took over downtown New York City during the 70’s and the 80’s, yet many stories from this era often go untold. Thomas W. Campbell tells one of these stories in the documentary, “The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio”.

What drove Linus Coraggio to make over 90 motorcycle sculptures made of metal, wood, plastic and discarded commercial items? For over 30 years, New York based Coraggio has been working on choppers of different sizes. None of them are meant to be ridden. His biggest life-size bike, the Vietnam Chopper, has wheelchair wheels, no motor, and is rusting away in a sculpture garden in East Village.

To those who think outsider artists like Coraggio are marginal, think again. The rich and famous know how to find him. He once made a sculpture bike for Ringo Starr as a present from his wife, Barbara Bach, which included drumsticks to connect the wheel and frame, a Ludwig drum pedal like Ringo used with the Beatles, and a cutout heart.

He has been active since the early 1980’s, during which he founded the Rivington School of Art in the East Village and became the architect for Gas Station, a seminal art installation on the corner of Avenue B and 2nd Street that was demolished in 1996.

“When I was screening my first film on the East Village art scene, a guy came up to me and said ‘you used footage of the Gas Station in your film. I was the one who created it’”, said Thomas Campbell, director of the documentary The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio. Campbell still remembers his first meeting with his protagonist vividly. “As a person I liked him from the start because he is direct and sincere. And I think he recognized that I was really interested in art, not in telling a hyped-up story for profit. So I knew then I wanted to make another East Village film and telling Linus’ story made a lot of sense.”

Barbie bike

Thomas Campbell is a digital storyteller from Vermont who moved to New York as a kid and never left. As an independent film and video editor he worked on numerous documentaries, narratives and industrials before he started to make his own films. The Motorcycle Art of Linus Coraggio, which will be screened at the NYC Independent Film Festival in May, is his most recent production.
“His motorcycle art is just one aspect of his talent; he also does street art and 3D graffiti. It became clear to me that the motorcycle art could be a self-contained story and might appeal to a larger group of people than the specific East Village 80’s stuff. So one day we just started shooting it,” says Campbell.

The Motorcylce Art of Linus Coraggio brings the viewer into the artist’s world and explores how and why he makes his art. We see sequences from 2009 in which Coraggio works in his Bushwick studio, where we witness a remarkable scene in which he empties some boxes with scavenged materials and makes a brand new motorcycle sculpture in plastic.

“I love it when he is working on the colorful plastic Barbie bike and he says something like: ‘Heh, let’s see them teach someone in China to do that’… It’s the idea that the artist’s vision is constantly refreshing itself. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that he is working with found objects, wood, metal, plastic, discarded commercial items etcetera. So the art first lives in the objects and begins to come alive as the materials are placed together," says Campbell.



Cinéma Vérité

Aside from Linus, no one speaks during the film. Not even the restaurant owner, who gave the artist a free hand in decorating his business with sculptures and who also cut out a few wooden structures, gets to speak.

“I didn’t want to make a talking head film… I think the film works best in a vérité style. I believe that the singular journey of the artist is more interesting to experience first hand than to be told about… Nothing in my films is ever staged. I’m really into watching a process evolve and documenting it “as-is”. But this does not preclude me from asking questions as the artist works, which may or may not put me outside of the ‘cinéma vérité’ canon,” says Campbell.

Campbell believes that as a director and as an editor, he has become aware that films need to ultimately follow two often-conflicting rules. First, the story must be complete and entertaining. Second, the film should not be too long, or it would probably face rejection by festivals. “This film is a very awkward 37 minutes, but I cut it down from about 50 minutes and it finally got to a length that could not be cut anymore. Though my films are looser in structure and not really biographical, I still hope that they provide an accurate and interesting glimpse into the artistic process. So I think anyone who has an artistic side - which I believe is most of us - might find something to enjoy in a film like this,” he concludes.