Paintings that celebrate the chopper lifestyle, intricate tattoos encapsulating biker iconography, and linework which embraces everything from helmets to entire motorcycles … tanks, fenders, fairings; All could be considered old-school skills that have lost steam in the modern world … were it not for artists such as Darren McKeag.
The 52-year-old travels the country, and the world, from his Cedar Rapids home to share his talents, drawing inspiration from the biker scene, and in turn fanning the proverbial flames for a traditional artform at everywhere from Sturgis, to SEMA and David Mann’s annual Chopperfest artshow.
“My influences as a child, were David Mann centerfolds,” says McKeag, a regular at Brooklyn’s annual Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party. “I never met David, but his art has been a part of my entire life … and still gives me inspiration ... I really enjoy his early work.”
Like Mann, a California artist whose iconic paintings celebrated biker culture, and choppers, McKeag began drawing and painting at an early age.
“I have drawn my entire life ... pencil, colored pencil and pen and ink,” he says. “I started airbrushing when I was 18 and painted motorbikes ... It was at that time that I was introduced to tattooing and have been in tattooing since 1990.”
Tattooing drew him to ‘Kustom’ hand painting with enamel, which he has now been doing for about 16 years.
Grease Monkey Block Party 2019: McKeag's Ghost Rider print is a tip of the hat to David Mann — Rahoul Ghose
I never met David (Mann), but his art has been a part of my entire life … and still gives me inspiration.
His work in enamel paint is particularly striking … watching the process of laying down clean lines on a helmet for instance, combining pinstriping motifs with illustrated scenes … skulls, flames, choppers … all with precise brush strokes … a marriage of Mack brushes and Alpha enamel paint.
Keep those brushes wet, he says.
“As far as my steady hand and painting lines, that is something that I have had with me my entire life ... I have always focused on creating smooth, clean lines, (whether) I’m doing pen and ink, sharpie, tattooing or enamel,” McKeag says. “My helmet art is a lot of fun. Ultimately, I like to create art that is in my head ... sometimes I draw directly on to the helmet. Other times, I will create the art on paper first and then transfer it to the surface of the helmet. I usually paint a section of the helmet, then let it dry before moving on to the next section.”
McKeag adds he usually works on multiple pieces of art at once. His website (mckeagart.com) and Instagram (@mckeagart) offer up a steady creative stream of transformed motorcycle tanks, helmets, surfboards and guitars, as well as a host of tattoo designs, some documented from the initial template to full completion.
“A lot of my design ideas come from past experiences and travels ... I literally get ideas in my sleep and try to write them down in the mornings ... (and) there is always a part of my motorbike past that I include in my paintings.”
Brooklyn Invitational tank entry from 2017 — Rahoul Ghose
I created this coffin tank as part of a tribute to the idea of chopping up all motorbikes that come from the factory and making them your own creation ... chop your hog.
McKeag’s daily rider is a twin cam chopper, and he shares a stock 1967 HD Shovelhead with his father.
“I have had several Harleys and still have a few now. I was raised on them, around them and many other types of motorbikes. My creativity definitely depends on being in, around and at motorbike and hotrod functions. Hotrod magazines, motorbike movies and photographs definitely influence me.”
One example of that influence, an artfully designed McKeag tank, displayed at the Brooklyn Invitational a few years back, took the form of a coffin, bearing a jar with a pig’s foot in it. But rather than the ‘Deathtrap’ message emblazoned on one side, the piece offered up a very different commentary.
“I created this coffin tank as part of a tribute to the idea of chopping up all motorbikes that come from the factory and making them your own creation ... chop your hog,” McKeag said.
You might describe his personal philosophy as ‘art imitating life‘… and you need look no further than McKeag’s own body to witness his commitment to art … his head, neck and arms inked with self-expression.
“As an artist that is covered in tattoos … that has all been done for me and only me. I’m covered in tattoos because that’s what I wanted to do,” he says. “I’m not trying to convey anything to anyone ... however, I do feel it shows that we are all free to create or show art how we want.
“Tattooing has been a part of my life for a very long time ... even before I started tattooing, I was into tattoos and around them ... my personal art I have tattooed on me has been designed by me,” he says, adding his designs were simply a suggestion so that the artist tattooing him was left to create his own art. “As an artist, that’s the best way.”
Grease Monkey Block Party 2019: McKeag wears his ink as an artist displaying his life's work — Rahoul Ghose
I’m covered in tattoos because that’s what I wanted to do. I’m not trying to convey anything to anyone ... however, I do feel it shows that we are all free to create or show art how we want.
Clients travel from all over the US and the world to be tattooed by McKeag, who credits social media in part for his global success. Throat and side tattoos remain the most difficult propositions, with McKeag recounting one 11-hour sitting a client endured for inked pride.
Ultimately, McKeag gets the most pleasure from painting in his home studio, shared with his wife Missy, and in maintaining his old school talents.
“It allows me to create the art that is in my head and not be influenced by what others want. Hand painting at one time was almost a lost art, (but) it has really picked up a lot of momentum and resurfaced. I have taught many students what I know ... (and) it has been very rewarding to pass my knowledge along to others.”
A bit of the Brooklyn spirit in the heart of Iowa.
You can find out more about Darren McKeag at mckeagart.com ... or follow him on Instagram and Facebook .