Born and raised in Wendell, North Carolina, artist Gorgeous George has gone on to produce some of the most recognizable images in the chopper scene today. He produced the very first cover for Show Class Magazine, and has teamed up with the likes of Death Science, Loser Machine, Old School Helmets, and countless others to create works of art for a wide range of stuff that’s cool. When he’s not drawing or painting, GG can often be found skating, shooting, fishing, or tearing it up on his XL.
When I caught up with George a few weeks back, I had a fistful of questions at the ready. For a dude that keeps so busy, I really lucked out when he agreed to sit down for this piece, and here’s how it went…
First off, for those who don’t know, you recently restored a beautiful old Airstream to live in, and she’s resting on a nice piece of wooded land. What led to your decision to “get away from it all”?
Honestly, it was a matter of money. My wife and I were living in a super expensive apartment and we were tired of paying money each month for something we didn’t own. Also, living in the Airstream has given me the opportunity to focus on my artwork. I no longer have to teach. I loved teaching, but working all day with the kids, then coming home and spending all night in the studio was wearing me out! It’s been a huge change but definitely worth it, and an awesome adventure too.
So where did you grow up, George, and what were the motivating factors that led you to become an artist?
I grew up in a small country town outside of Raleigh, NC named Wendell. The reason I became an artist is because my brother was a handful as a kid. He is 6 years older than me and my mom was always chasing him around, trying to keep him out of trouble. While my mom was doing that she would put me at the kitchen table with a huge box of crayons and some dot matrix printer paper. I would draw and color for hours at a time. I loved to draw Ninja Turtles, X-Men, WWF wrestlers, skateboarders, and small airplanes because my mom worked part-time keeping the books at a flight school at the local airport.
Who were some of your favorite artists growing up, and how have they influenced your work?
As a kid I had that thick “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” book so I would draw comic characters all of the time. I would practice my foreshortening and things like that to try to make it look like the comics, even though I wasn’t that great. As I got older and began to be exposed to artists in school, I took a liking to the Mannerist painter, El Greco. I know it seems like a big difference going from comics to El Greco but I saw a lot of parallels in the work. El Greco used the human figure in a modern way even though he was painting in the 1500’s and 1600’s. The way he used the figure to show drama and emotion— I was absolutely blown away when I first saw it. Hell, His work still blows my mind! His works are loose yet precise, chaotic but intentional, exaggerated and realistic. I can’t fucking explain it. I just wish I could paint that way. I think, subconsciously, El Greco does influence my illustration more than my painting. I find myself twisting the human figure. Even the way I draw hands and eyes is heavily influenced by his paintings.
Your work in pen and ink is highly recognizable. Just like someone can spot a piece by Maxwell Paternoster from across the room, your work just screams “George” the minute one sees it. Was there a point where you had one of those “a-ha!” moments, and from then on, stylistically, everything just came together?
I guess as far as my pen and ink work goes, it has been a very recent development. If you had asked me 8 or 10 years ago when I was in art school if I would be doing illustration based work, I would have said, “Hell no! I am a fine art painter. Illustration is for communication arts majors!” Fast forward a few more years, I did some work for east coast chopper events like Ride to Skate and was approached by Adrian Lopez and the guys from Loser Machine. They appreciated that my work had both choppers and skateboarding represented equally. Being a skate rat and having the opportunity to work with an awesome skater-owned company was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Working with Loser Machine has helped me to continue to develop and expand my style as an illustrator. They continually give me the opportunity to push myself into areas of illustration that I have yet to venture. It has helped me grow exponentially as an illustrator and a painter.
By the way, I really love the stuff you’ve done with paint. Do you find a greater satisfaction these days working in pen and ink, or sketching on the computer?
I’m still deeply rooted in my fine art background and I consider myself a painter more than an illustrator. If someone asks me what I do for a living I tend to tell them, “I am an artist. A painter, but I also do some freelance illustration work.” The only issue is people see more of my illustrations than my paintings. Haha. Thank God Paul, the art director at Loser Machine, is good at computer stuff and can take my drawings and make them work for screen printing, posters, window displays, and things like that. I am slowly teaching myself the basics of Illustrator and Photoshop but I respond more to the the human aspect of art. I guess that ties into my fine art mindset and my need to feel the artists hand in their works. I still take every opportunity that I can to paint. If there is an art show and I have enough time to prepare, 9 out of 10 times, I do a painting.
So how did you get involved with the motorcycle scene?
I pretty much found motorcycles on my own. My dad isn’t a biker so it’s not like I grew up around them. When I was in art school the chopper shows were on T.V. but I wasn’t really turned on by those bikes. Then I saw some of my favorite skaters riding bitchin’ old choppers and was like “Fuck! That’s it right there!!!” While in school I dreamed of having a motorcycle, but I didn’t have anywhere close to the amount of money necessary to buy one. I had a Huffy beach cruiser bicycle with a tall sissy bar, apes, and a banana seat. I would “rescue” rusty, forgotten beach cruisers from the bike racks on campus and take them into my apartment. I’d take them all apart, clean them up, paint them, swap out handlebars and forks and create rad chopper bicycles. When I got out of art school and landed a job teaching, I bought an old Suzuki off of Craigslist. My dad and I built a cool little chopper. I eventually got hooked up with the Death Science dudes and ended up building the Ironhead that I have now.
Can you tell us about any particular pieces you’re most proud of? Were they for a shop, magazine, band, etc.?
I guess right now the work that sticks out in my mind is the Born Free 5 Builder Invite Poster. Everything on that poster was hand drawn. As I mentioned earlier I take a lot of pride in doing my work by hand. And even if it’s not obvious to the majority of people looking at the poster, I dig the intricate nuances of each little portrait and frame. Also, I had the opportunity to draw my favorite bike builders whose craft and attention to detail has inspired me to continue to push myself as an artist.
Are there any new artists that inform your work, inspire you to try new things, or that just motivate you to start drawing?
One of my favorite contemporary artists is Matt Kerley. Not only is he an awesome artist, he is an excellent friend! We were in art school together and have known each other for years and years. His work, along with my other Swamp Wizards brethren, continue to push me to the next level as I am in awe of all their talent. The cool thing about the Swamp Wizards is that we have such a diverse group of artists. Sculptors, painters, illustrators, tattooers, engravers, and the list goes on and on. We are on a mission to push each other to new artistic heights and it’s working.
Also my brother, Billy Childress, is another native North Carolina artist. His photographs are by far some of the most top notch images to ever be captured. The way he sees the world is to be envied. The awesome thing about his work is that he approaches photography with a fine art eye. One thing I notice is that a lot of motorcycle and skateboard photographers are all about documenting the object or action in a very sterile way. As for Billy, I’m not sure what goes on in his brain, but I like it. Oh, and I love riding bikes with Billy. We both like to ride in a super tight pack. Nothing beats it.
What are you working on next? Any upcoming prints or shows to look out for?
Lots of stuff! I still have a few prints that I have been meaning to put out for a while. Maybe I’ll get them released before the holidays. I have been working with Cary Brobeck, the editor of Wrench Magazine, to do some illustrations and things like that for the magazine, so look out for those coming out soon. There is a group show at the Pretty Pretty Collective in San Francisco that I am a part of December 7th, and a Krampus-themed show coming up on December 21st at the new Throne Room gallery that Chris Yvon is opening. Other than that just a lot more work coming out from Loser Machine and trying to get ready for Born Free 6.
If you could travel through time, where would you go?
Damn, that’s a hard question. Honestly I think I would stay right here. Things are going well. My life is great. I am living comfortably with my awesome wife in our Airstream. I have great friends and family close by. There is a killer concrete skatepark about 20 minutes away. My bike is running good. But if I had to go somewhere, I guess it would be pretty rad to ride a Triceratops, haha.
If you don’t mind I’d like to add a few thank you’s.
Sure thing, man. Fire away!
First and foremost, thank you for the interview and all you do for the chopper artist community. As you know it’s a small community and without all of us sticking together we stand no chance.
A huge thanks to my wife who puts up with my craziness. Thank you to my parents for raising me up good. Big thanks to Adrian, Paul, Chris and all the folks at Loser Machine/ Dark Seas for the continued support.
Thank you to my Swamp Wizards brothers for continually pushing the art game to a higher level. Thank you to my brother Billy Childress for being a rad mother fucker. Thanks to Kyle, Murphy, Phil and all of the other Baltimore folks for always showing me a good time and taking care of me when I’m up there.
Thank you to Clarke and all the other Freak Out the Squares dudes for always being positive and awesome as shit! A big thanks to my friends in Winston-Salem Wesley, Brannon, Nathan, Erik, and Johnny. Thanks to the Hooked MC boys, the Peanut City Geeks, and the Motoscum boys for being rad and always partying. Thanks to my homies at Back Door Skateshop and Skatepark, and Benji and Jay! You guys are the best!!!
Finally, I would love to thank each and every person who has ever clicked on my website, checked me out on Instagram, told someone about my art, or even purchased art from me. Y’all know who you are and are all heroes! Thanks for the continued love and support, friends!
And thank you, Gorgeous George, for putting aside some time for this interview! It’s been an awesome time getting to know more about the man behind such iconic pieces of art, and I believe I can speak for everybody when I say we’re all dying to seeing what you come up with next.