For some, the relationship between human and machine is almost as intimate as our connection to each other. Ask any motorcycle enthusiast about their bike and you’re likely to get an earful that sounds more like a love letter than a mechanical dissection.
And South African artist Claudia Liebenberg understands this affair as closely as the most seasoned mechanic. Every brush stroke she makes breathes life into her vintage renderings. If detailing a bike is considered relationship maintenance, then Liebenberg’s arduous process of painting every glint and glimmer is the equivalent of putting a ring on it.
Liebenberg shares with ASN where she inherited the oil in her blood and why we should consider putting garage inspired art on gallery walls.
What came first, the passion for art or machines? And how did they evolve together?
Most certainly the passion for art. I got a cheap watercolor set as a gift before school and that was it. I was obsessed with the expression of what I saw onto paper. I grew up around machines, my dad being the motorhead. He had a taste for the classics. I guess his eye for good lines in general had me see the art in machinery and appreciate the craftsmanship.
When did you first recognize you had the talent to paint your own version of these subjects?
The day my Grade 1 teacher asked my mom to come in to show her what I had been drawing. She was blown away by my spacial awareness and placement.
We seem to share a similar affinity for the classic BMW R75. How did you come to own yours?
Ah my big guy! I happened upon him in Cape Town. I had made friends with the founder/owner Devin, of Woodstock Moto Co. after being invited there for an exhibition. It was my first of many MotoArt exhibitions.
I had been discussing my dream machine; an original black (pinstriped) pre-80s BMW R Series. And like an older brother, he had my back all the way and watched out for me during the entire process; from the purchase to my first trip out of town with some friends. That machine remains one of top three best life decisions – after saying “yes” to my husband.
Have you learned anything unique about the dream machines you paint or is the reverence purely aesthetic?
Oh boy, I’ve learned so much! Especially that what I am painting is (mostly) a collection of closed systems. For example, a carburetor must look like it was designed to. But what revolutionized my detail – and it’s visible – in my work, was when I owned and tinkered on my own machine. Now I understood the reason for the parts and have a deep respect for the designer/engineers. The histories linked to them has also been a treat along the way.
What are some details about your creative process many wouldn’t expect, and is there a trick to using watercolors that give your motor work such depth?
Oh so many! One thing I have learned, is that in order to create that depth – for it to look alive – you paint to capture light. Essentially painting in the negative spaces so that the “life” and light pops out, thus leaving the bright reflections in chrome untouched for maximum effect.
Has your art connected you to a global network of people with a similar taste level? If so, what places have embraced your style the most?
Yes, indeed. Probably one the most rewarding aspects of the work is meeting people from all over. I have been so fortunate to have met so many good people and can call many of those friends. The States for sure, Germany, Australia, Canada, Denmark, to name a few.
If money was no object, what bikes and cars would be in your dream garage?
Ooh. Mostly German machines, I’d say. I already have one of them in our garage; my 1976 R75/6. For off road, the ’80s R80GS. For cars, the BMW 2002, and any old Mercedes would be just grand.
Visit Claudia Liebenberg’s website for the expanded experience.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!