Artist Taliah Lempert; The Growth Mindset at Work
I first met Taliah at the bicycle industry trade show at a show booth where her portrait of Greg LeMond’s Tour de France winning bike (see above) was on display. When I walked by she was in the midst of painting a portrait commissioned for a charity auction of a bike ridden by one of America’s best pro cyclists, the great sprinter, Davis Phinney. The bike show was like other industry shows. There were booths for vendors of everything related to cycling from small companies in everything from apparel to parts, as well as the huge brand company names like Trek, Giant, etc. The Italian pavilion/transplanted Italian village where I usually hung out was always fun. They had a damned smoking lounge in the middle of the Vegas Convention Center! This, of course, was next to the espresso machine and lunch (pasta, salad, dessert…) that was prepared for the whole extended family of the pavilion. At the time, about 20 years ago, the bicycle retail business was on its way to becoming the commoditized industry that it is today. Despite that dead end, it is now possible to order a full custom bike from a host of boutique builders around the US or one of the remaining multi-generational family builders in Italy online. This doesn’t make the industry unique. In fact, it’s not any different than a lot of other businesses and similar to restaurants which run the gamut from fast food to rustic luxury farm-to-table fare, than the technology sector where not much is customizable. Is a custom bike better than a mass produced one? Absolutely, but I won’t take the space to go into how and why because you might be wondering what the state of the bike business has to do with Taliah?
Well, Taliah is an artist who paints portraits of bicycles. She has successfully created her own niche within/out of/next to/born from a love of the bicycle. The bicycle is everywhere, but even though nine or ten million of them get sold in a year, it’s a small business dollar-wise compared to other transportation or recreational sectors.
“Bikes and cycling were part of the family culture growing up. My dad always rode growing up in the Bronx and he raced track.” (Track racers ride fixed gear bikes in velodromes. They have one direct drive gear, meaning you can’t coast, and they don’t have brakes. A velodrome is a 333 meter or more in length oval shaped track with banked turns that are typically angled at 25 or more degrees.) Taliah, though grew up in Ithaca NY. She rode for fun as kids do, but there were no bikes in her life from college until her late twenties.
Before coming back to bikes, Taliah found art as a calling through an elective in high school when, “it just clicked.” Taliah explained to me that her approach has evolved, but her work pattern is established as observation based, which is to say that she is “painting about it, when I have a subject, a bike.” Years later when her relationship with the bicycle came, it came from an interest in the story of the paintings that she saw as a student pf art. As an example, when my wife and I dragged my son, his girlfriend and their friend through the Uffizi Gallery they got tired of all those Madonnas and Childs pretty quickly. How could there so many versions of the same thing was the general question from them, but Taliah told me that what she took away from all those Catholic saint paintings was the unknown bits. The idea of the story that made those subjects worth painting is what drew her interest.
I think that it’s fascinating to look at a bicycle and observe that it holds stories about where it has been with whom during its lifetime. The story that Taliah is always working on is a celebration of the person connected to the bike and how it got to be the way it is when she paints a picture of it. And, to be clear, the observed subject doesn’t have to be a Tour de France winner’s bike. Beater bikes like the kind you see chained up all around cities and train stations do just fine. Taliah said that she aims at an audience like herself with the intent to create art that is affordable because it gives her a good feeling seeing someone start to develop their own palate’s taste for original artwork.
Along the way Taliah has had to learn how to build a business from the web coding on up. When she moved to New York City she was drawn to the East Village scene. The story is that one day Taliah saw a folding bike at a shop which led to discovering riding as the best way to get around the city. That was followed by getting a cruiser bike and then finding the track racing scene after going into a shop owned by her future partner. Taliah also began painting pictures of her track bike. Like many cyclists she feels that the diamond frame of a bicycle is compositionally beautiful and has also found that this beautiful, simple object is spiritually functional. As she put it, the bike is positive. Riding generates independence from the energy that the rider puts into it when pedaling. Riding helps one focus. It can provide the metaphorical framework for a rider’s ideas. (I heartily agree.)
The track as Taliah said, is pure. She raced for several years and won a NY state championship in the Matched Sprint. I think it was unexpected when it happened, but Taliah shared with me that lessons from racing track carried over into her business. It helps inform what she does. The process of figuring out how to get to the front in a race in the moment takes time, but you can’t take too much time because if you’re not moving forward in the group then you’re moving back. Racing is physically hard, but if you can get there and be comfortable with that part, the reward is the strategic side of the game.
Taliah and I didn’t really talk about what the growth mindset is until we were about done talking. It hit me that the bio that Taliah shared with me was a lot of dots connecting into a story filled in, not by number, but through perseverance and learning, always learning. It was fun, and the paintings are really excellent. See them all at http://www.bicyclepaintings.com/ There are prints, mugs, a 2020 calendar, fridge magnets, and tee shirts too – perfect for the cyclist and any lover of moving independently.