Valenti art chases the extremes of bicycling for Midwest BikeShare
Michael Valenti's poster art has an eccentric element that fits the absurd reaches of his subject matter: bicycling and the riders and venues of the great European races.
A 54-year-old advertising art director, Valenti pursues his passion for cycling in a creative, almost whimsical fashion, work far different from the campaigns he has created for McDonald's, Eli Lilly, All-State Insurance and Fortune 500 companies.
His swooping, angular, distorted caricatures track the lines of the cyclists in the animated film, "Triplets of Belleville." From the snow-capped Alpe D' Huez, to the devilish Paris-Roubaix and the moonscape of Mont Ventoux, he places cyclists in the other-worldly extremes of the sport with an artist's imagination and talent.
"When you work in a creative environment, you're always looking for outlets," said Valenti, who now runs his own advertising studio in the Chicago area. "Drawing pictures of bicycles was kind of fun for me.
"The drawings fall out of me."
Those drawings caught the attention of Ken Hanson, a principal in Hanson Dodge Creative. The firm, based in Milwaukee's Third Ward, hired Valenti to create a poster to promote Midwest BikeShare, the effort to bring a short-term bicycle rental system to Milwaukee.
His creation will be unveiled at the opening of an exhibition of Valenti's work at Hanson Dodge on Thursday, March 21, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
I talked to Valenti about cycling and his creations as a preview to the show.
A passion for riding: "What I love about the sport of cycling is … first of all, I love the camaraderie of the group ride. I rode with Colavita for a few years in Deerfield, Ill., and started the Veloist Cycling Club as a group in Lindenhurst. It's an extended family. We take care of each other on the road. I love the freedom that riding gives me.
"The best time is when you have nine to 12 people, all around that same fitness level and move through a pace line easily and smoothly. You look down and no one's working too hard, and you're going 23 to 25 miles per hour. You're looking for that flow."
The start: "I rode bikes as a kid, and we always had that pack of 10 kids riding around the neighborhood. I'm totally convinced me and my friends invented mountain biking, even though we're not getting credit for it. We used to jump fences and light tires on fire with lighter fluid, all the things you should do at 10. I never rode with a club or a group or a team until I was in my early 30s."
Following an artistic wheel: "I've obviously been influenced by other artists' styles. Peter Max was a big influence for me. There's a designer named Michael Schwab. Triplets of Belleville, that was obviously and influence. The swooping caricature, of exaggeration, to me fits a lot of cyclists.
"When you think about it, the pro cyclists are actually pretty grotesque: These tiny little guys, with giant thighs, and little upper bodies and crazy tans. It's never a body to aspire to.
"I think the exaggeration is something people can identify with. It's just to me, stylistically, it fits my aesthetic. When I don't do it, when I don't push it, I look at the work and it's not as good as my other work because I left it in the middle. The more I push the curved arms and bodies, the more I like the work."
The approach: "All my work is first sketched in pen and marker for concept and basic design. I then work digitally in Illustrator to create the finished work.
"The work is either printed as a Giclee or screen print. The limited edition of BikeMKE will be screen printed. Most images take me an average of three days to concept, design and finish."
Perfect Saturday ride: "From my house (in Lindenhurst, Ill.), with my club, with my team, out to Lake Geneva and back. It's about five hours, 75 miles and we have coffee when we get there and turn around and come back.
"To us, that's a great Saturday morning ride. We push our mileage up, prepare for two-day and three-day events. That's what we kind of train for."
BikeShare appeal: "I think bicycles in congested areas are a great idea. Putting more people on bicycles is good for us physically. Good for the planet. You see more, sense more, view more of the landscape. I think that can only help in the whole tourism area in Milwaukee, and maybe somebody will go home and buy a bike."
Details: A limited number of Valenti's BikeMKE posters and t-shirts will be offered for sale during the exhibit. Proceeds will be directed to Midwest BikeShare. The exhibition will run through May 30. His posters are available for purchase through his shop.
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