Speakeast with - Steve Penley

Artist's painting to represent Bike MS: Cox Atlanta Ride, Sept. 13-14

Steve Penley (third from left) believes in making art to save lives — or at least he'll give it a shot. Penley's painting has been selected to represent this year's Bike MS: Cox Atlanta Ride, a fundraiser on Sept. 13-14 for multiple sclerosis research.

How did you come to be involved with Bike MS?

I've been doing fundraising for MS for the past few years. My dad was diagnosed with MS about 25 years ago. So of course I have a personal interest in a cure being found. It's just such a terrible disease. I feel so lucky to be healthy. If I can use my art to help people that are suffering ...

Please describe the work you've done for this event.

I did a painting of bikers going by with the background blurred behind them like a real action photo. And they're generic bikers, so it's nobody specific. It's just a generic bike race, but in my style with the bright colors and the action lines behind them. I was trying to get a real feeling of excitement and speed. They're going to be putting this on the front of a jersey. And hopefully they'll be doing prints of it, too, to sell to raise money for MS.

Would you comment on the following quotes from your website: "I want to give these subjects a new sort of dignity" and "I want to work realistically in a new way. It's hard to put my work into a specific classification."

My book coming out this month from Mercer University Press called The Reconstruction of America is a comment on hero deconstruction. In American culture, I think we have a tendency to bash our country and to tear down our heroes. For instance, when we talk about our founders, we concentrate on the fact that they were slave owners ... and we ignore the fact that they created a system that abolished slavery.

It's also touching on pop art in general, how some of these artists from the '60s and '70s – which I love these artists, so I'm not talking bad about the artists – but there's a tendency of cynicism and sarcasm. So when I do paintings of popular icons, I'm not trying to tear these subjects down or deconstruct them. I'm trying to rebuild them. It's almost a glorification.

As far as the ride goes, there's so many of these diseases that could be, if not cured, at least controlled. If I can paint a painting to help, that's easy for me.

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