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Gear up: A Brooklyn painter’s love affair with the bicycle

If Taliah Lempert were Picasso, the bike would be her Dora Maar. And her Olga, her Marie-Thérèse, and her Jacqueline. Bicycles are the constant muse inspiring this Williamburg-based painter–and intrepid city cyclist–since 1996. “I bought a little white folding bike and started riding it everywhere,” remembers Lempert. Soon friends were dropping their bikes off for portrait sessions.

Starting this Sunday, June 13th, and running through July 11, the Elk Gallery in Gowanus will become a bike room of sorts. “The Right Bike for the Right Situation” is a retrospective of Lempert’s nearly 15 years as a painter in the bike lane. “I’m interested in what a bike suggests,” says Lempert. “How they are symbols of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, whether it’s racing your bike, riding further than you ever have, hauling all your stuff on a bike, or giving a bike to a child in Africa so she can get to school.”

In her portraits, the bike becomes an uniquely sumptuous object depicted in rich oils. Each one is imbued with personality and distinction, referencing, but never showing its owner. Lempert lavishes so much love on this commonplace vehicle, it’s easy to forget there are 1.1 billion of these two-wheelers in the world. Lempert shared some of her favorite pieces with Well+Good, as well as the story behind the artwork.

The BSA, a British track bike from the 1940’s, is one of Lempert’s favorite muse bikes. “I don’t know its history,” she says. “But when I look at it, I can taste the thrill of the old velodromes. I  love the wear, tear and age, suggestive of past journeys.”

This is Lempert’s track bike, the Bob Jackson, that she used just for racing. “I raced at Kissena for 6 years and am probably done with racing. I enjoyed the track and got a lot out of racing that spilled over and colored my life,” says Lempert.

This is a Small Tall,  a tall bike made from small bikes. “It has a wheel to wheel drive system, so to go forward you pedal backwards, moving the top wheel which turns the bottom one. It has a coaster brake which is operated by pedaling forwards,” explains Lempert.

Greg LeMond rode this bike to victory in the 1990 Tour de France. “It was a thrill to have it in the studio. It’s an awesome bike and very much of it’s time,” says Lempert.

“This folding bike from the 1920s belongs to my friend Arone. In the 1980s it belonged to my boyfriend, then was owned by a few other people before it came back around,” says Lempert.

The Elk Gallery, 327 Bond St., at President St., Brooklyn, Opening Reception: Sunday June 13th, 5-8 pm