I first crossed paths with Frank Giambattista from Vicious Cycles in the main forum back in 2012. Frank showcased his paintwork from time to time and blew my mind with every creation. Fast forward ten years and Frank’s continuing to lay down paint with the best of them and always seems to be pushing himself to learn new techniques. Lately, he has been perfecting the use of resin and is creating some radical gas caps and shifter knobs that help separate your bike from the masses. Please take a moment to get to know Frank.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I have been around bikes my entire life. I was born in New York where my father worked as a mechanic at a Harley shop called Custom Cycles in Bellmore. When I was 5 yrs old, my family moved to South Florida, where he opened his own shop called Vicious Cycles. He wrenched on Harleys and built a couple drag bikes that he and his friends raced over the years. I was the dirty little kid riding around the shop on my chopper bicycle or Briggs and Stratton mini bike. When I was 20, I moved to Los Angeles to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. A few years later some of my old skater buddies started getting into bikes and I caught the bug again. I had my dad find me an old Sportster in Florida, he fixed it up for me and shipped it out. I have slowly been becoming just like him ever since.
When is your first recollection that art would be a factor in your life? All through my childhood I used to travel from Florida to Long Island to visit my grandmother and spend the summer doing different types of arts and crafts. She was the most amazing artist and I was her apprentice. Her basement was an art studio and she taught ceramic classes and had a few kilns, was a super talented portrait and landscape painter, brush or pencil, did stained glass, made miniature model houses, would knit quilts, and sewed clothing. She was like Martha Stewart and Bob Ross combined into one.
Are you a self-taught painter? Yes, I found a copy of The Art of Custom Painting and just started messing around with an airbrush, tape, and stencils. I have asked the guys at my paint shop millions of questions though, so if you asked them they’d probably say they taught me.
What has been some of the harder techniques to learn? I am still trying to get comfortable with pinstriping. My hands are always shaking though, so I might just need another beer.
When was the first time you held a spray gun? When I was a kid in my grandmother's basement. My uncle was a graffiti artist back in the early 80’s in NYC, and he always had paint markers, spray cans, and this Paache airbrush and compressor lying around.
Do you have a certain brand of paint you prefer to work with? I am not super picky when it comes to paint brands, but I’ve just always used House of Color candies and never had a reason to switch. I recently started using Tropical Glitz Metal Flakes and been impressed with the results. Although, I hate wet sanding and their flake lays super flat so that helps.
When did you start painting motorcycles? Shortly after I got my first bike I found a gas tank at the swap meet and decided to give it a try myself. I think I painted the bike 3 or 4 times before I sold it and did the same to my next bike and a few of my friends’ bikes. More and more friends and friends of friends kept reaching out for paintwork so I started taking as much work as I could get and ran with the Vicious Cycles name to keep my father's dream alive.
Do you prefer to paint a gas tank or motorcycle helmet? I am always more inspired and excited to paint a gas tank. Maybe because I know someone is trusting me to paint something they will be staring at for thousands of miles, instead of something to put on their head and keep them safe. Motorcycles are supposed to be dangerous, right?
What are some of the projects that stand out for you and why? I love how my buddy Jeremy’s pearl and purple flamed Panhead came out. I think that was the first frame I ever painted too. I got a lot of positive feedback about that bike and the guy in Japan that bought the bike hasn’t ditched the paint job yet so he must dig it too!
I notice you use transfers on some of the motorcycle tanks. Can you explain why you enjoy this process? When I first started painting bikes I was talking to my father and he was telling me about a triumph chopper he built in the early 70’s. It had a coffin style gas tank and he found a cartoon drawing in an old Playboy that had Jesus on the cross floating in a life raft with a couple of naked girls around him with a caption that said “Jesus Saves”. I was curious if I could figure out the technique he used so I gave it a try and had some luck. I don’t necessarily like or dislike this process. It’s always cool to be able to find ways to incorporate my style of painting with famous art by Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, and Salvador Dali, while maybe showcasing their work to another audience or generation. Working with a really cool photo can be super inspiring as well, but I’d prefer to have the entire space of the tank to myself.
It’s always neat to watch an artist try different things to extend their abilities. How did working with resin come about? I wanted to try to do what people call a ‘dirty pour’ with resin and acrylic paint, the results are insane! If you are not working with a flat surface though, and have curves like on a gas tank or helmet, it was tough to get the same results. I’ve been collecting taxidermy ever since I was a goth in high school so I started making molds with bugs and skulls encased in the resin. Around the same time I saw a post from Harley Carrara at Traditional Cycles of a screen shot from an old bike mag of a painter doing a resin inlay with a giant spider. I gave my buddy James over at Livin Co. a shout and he welded me up a perfect oval shaped cavity and I started digging through my shelves looking for the perfect creatures to fit inside! The pig and the moth fit so well together so I ran with that.
What can you create using resin? When I was figuring out the resin and doing tests for the gas tank I encased a few different things in a layer of resin on top of some gas caps and hyped on how they turned out. People have been pretty stoked on all the little skull valve caps I’ve been doing and I just finished up a bunch of skull shift knobs for Dave Mann Chopperfest. I can do points covers as well, and I am working on a few other items right now.
Who are some of your role models within the industry and why? My father has always been my biggest role model when it comes to riding and wrenching on motorcycles. I have so many memories as a kid of him picking me up from school on the bike and all the little kids running to the fence to watch us take off. Even as a kid it was obvious to me that all his friends trusted only him to work on their bikes. He took it very serious, worked very hard, and loved doing it. He still does. Will Thomas is probably my favorite person in motorcycles though. I have never met a more sincere genuine guy! First time I met him I was cruising on my ‘59 Ironhead to In-N-Out and he followed me all the way across town to tell me how sick he thought the bike was and that I looked like Mark Drews riding it. That isn’t true but I can’t think of a better compliment, right?! Ever since then he has always been nothing but nice to me and goes out of his way to introduce me to his friends. As for painters, Tuki, Travis Hess, is definitely one of my favorites. The way he combines and fades colors, how clean is gold leafing is, and the classiness of his pinstriping is top-notch. I’ve been really hyped on the stuff Mark Choiniere has been doing lately as well, such a cool style.
What do you consider a perfect day? Drink Sangria in the park? Feed animals in the zoo? Whatever Lou Reed says.
If you could play five songs in your booth while you paint what would they be? Archers of Loaf – White Trash Heroes Steely Dan – Deacon Blues Brian Jonestown Massacre – Van Hande Med Dem AZ – Mo Money, Mo Murder Spiritualized – Come Together
What type of advice can you offer to someone starting out? It never hurts to ask questions, but if you get your hands dirty and give it a try yourself, you never know what other tricks or skills you'll develop in the process. Or, do it for fun, not for the money.
Do you have anything in the works that you’d like to share with our readers? James at Livin Co. and I are going to have a booth at Chopperfest and we are trying to finish another gas tank with resin inlays that is Dave Mann-themed for the show. I am also going to try to have a bunch of new shift knobs, gas caps, and valve caps coming out in 2018.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank? Anyone who has ever trusted me to paint something or make something for their bike. I have always done this for fun so it has been amazing seeing my work all over the country and world. My dad for starting this Vicious Cycle, my mom for always backing my decisions, my sister, my uncle, and my grandparents. My girlfriend Anne for being the smart beautiful woman she is. All my friends in LA, if it wasn’t for them I never would have been able to take this painting thing serious.
How can our readers see more of your work? You can find me on Instagram and Facebook. Check out my store if you have a chance and contact me for your one-off needs.
I would like to thank Frank for helping me with this feature.