What do you get when you breed Tim the Tool Man Taylor and Georgia O’Keeffe? The answer is an ambitious Austin-based artist named Brandon Mike.
To clarify, Brandon doesn’t actually share any DNA with Tim Allen’s popular TV personality or the world’s most famous innuendo artist (I think). He simply blends the beauty of the natural world with the functionality of well-oiled machinery to create works of art that are as impressive as they are profitable.
For his latest project, Brandon is taking Austin’s infatuation with custom bicycles to the next level by assembling his own motorcycle. Although he’s no stranger to a tool shed, Brandon admits he’s embarking on unfamiliar territory.
“I think that motorcycle engineering is an art form in itself. I’ve always been fascinated with motorcycles, but never fully comprehended how they work," he says. "So I bought a '79 Honda to rebuild myself. That’s just how I learn.”
He picked the perfect time to begin his education. Between Twin Shadow’s “Five Seconds” video and that remarkable desert scene from The Master, it seems motorbikes are re-becoming the trendsetter’s vehicle of choice. Need proof? Roll past The White Horse or The Mohawk once the sun goes down.
But this is far from Brandon’s first hands-on lesson. He’s been dismantling all sorts of devices since he was old enough to swing a hammer.
“My dad was always a ‘do it yourself’ kind of guy, and that seems to have stuck with me," says Brandon. "Occasionally, I would start my own projects or take something apart to see how it worked, and he never stopped me. He just kind of let me make my own mistakes. And when he did offer to help, I refused. I was determined to figure it out on my own. I guess I picked up his stubbornness too.”
"Honestly, there’s a wealth of free knowledge out there. You don’t need a fancy degree to improve your skills.” - Brandon Mike
As self-motivated as he may be, Brandon didn’t understand the true scope of his creativity until he hit puberty.
“Like many artists, I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I began to take art seriously. I was fortunate enough to have teachers who believed in me, and that gave me confidence — mostly confidence to make mistakes.”
Backed by the support of his teachers, friends and family, Brandon began experimenting with every medium from watercolors to sculptures.
“The search is constant. I’m always thinking of how to use different materials and techniques," he says of his art. "I think that a natural inquisitive drive is an important quality for artists and designers. My curiosity has done nothing but grow since I sold my first piece eight years ago... that was definitely a milestone in my career.”
With that first sale under his belt, and in his bank account, Brandon scrapped his desire for a practical career and fled Dallas for the Creative Capital of Texas.
“Austin’s art scene is definitely a conducive environment for a full-time artist. Though there's a lot of competition, there is a demand for quality work.”
To improve the quality of his work, Brandon sought the tutelage of this generation’s foremost art historian, the Internet.
“I learned design fundamentals and composition in school, but most of my knowledge came from looking at the work of professionals. I watched a lot of Bob Ross videos when learning to paint with oils," he reveals. "Honestly, there’s a wealth of free knowledge out there. You don’t need a fancy degree to improve your skills.”
Once his artistic skills caught the eye of a local advertising agency, Brandon accepted the challenge to balance a full-time graphic design gig with his less-commercial artistic endeavors.
“The 9-to-5 definitely cuts into my time spent in the workshop and studio. Sometimes it’s disheartening, however, I like being able to feed myself — and it’s not like I’m an accountant," Brandon explains. "I just designed all of the collateral for this year’s Run For The Water. Seeing runners wearing my t-shirts around the city is a surreal feeling.”
Even with a 40-hour workweek, Brandon has managed to produce new pieces of art for several local shows; most notably, this year’s East Austin Studio Tour.
“I was definitely not prepared for the awesomeness that is E.A.S.T. It worked out well though; I sold one of my oil paintings, which is all I could ever ask for.”
Don’t mistake that modesty for complacency. Brandon may be grateful for every oil painting he sells, but his true aspirations won’t be reached until he’s riding into a gallery full of his work on a motorcycle he built from scratch, with his sidekick, Wren, sitting in the sidecar.