His Business Is Vrooming

artist Bob Heller stages mini-motorbike show

Kinzy Janssen, photos by Andrea Paulseth

After spending 19 years roofing and siding houses, Heller had the know-how, the tough hands, and the sheer quantity of scrap material to create a whole garage’s worth of metal sculptures. Which is exactly what he did.

Heller creates artistic interpretations of chopper motorcycles out of scrap metal. Having built real choppers as a young man, Heller says he has the “hands-on identification” that this kind of artistry demands. Never soldering or welding the pieces together, he instead twists, cuts, bends, and hammers them into shape. The whimsical yet mechanically accurate sculptures contain seven different types of metal, from copper to stainless steel. “People like to get real close and test themselves, trying to guess which metals are which,” he says.

Though Heller created his first motorcycle sculptures in 1991, he abandoned the art in favor of steadier income. A series of unfortunate accidents, however, led him back to the long-dormant boxes of scrap metal – and imagination. First, Heller injured his back in karate class. Then he suffered a bout of heatstroke. In 2007, he gave up home improvement and reacquainted himself with art.

“I just went bananas!” Heller says. In one years’ time, he created 300 one-of-a-kind junk-art sculptures.

As I wandered his garage-turned studio, it was the detail that startled me. A few make use of tiny light bulbs for headlamps, while others incorporate antique glass doorknobs. There are motorcycles with metal riders, wire hair in perpetual flow behind them. On another, a copper cobra emerges from the back tire.

Though each model is different, Heller never approaches his work table with a blueprint. “I don’t envision the final product. A plan would be too much of a distraction for me; it would make it feel too much like a job.”