Greyson Perry's 'Princess Freedom Bicycle' Talk by Petor Georgallou of Dear Susan Bicycl
Last year Petor Georgallou of Dear Susan Bicycles was asked to build a bike for the artist Greyson Perry. At this years Bespoked, he gave a suitably eccentric and intriguing talk that gave us an insight into his background, the build and his approach as a frame builder.
"So I wrote my notes down for this talk but I think I’ll just freestyle it."
"I decided to start by working out how to do the bends myself. So I made him buy me a bending machine. I him no-one else would do the bends for me, which was the truth."
Quack quack quack. - phone rings. "oh its my mum, Hang on... Can I call you back in a bit I’m just in the middle of a talk. She was just going to keep ringing if i didn’t. Sorry"
"So I did the bends and they all kept creasing, like i tried loads of different stuff. I packed it with sand and put hot oil in the sand. I don’t know how readily available those materials are in other peoples lives but I don’t have hot oil in my workshop most of the time. I did that anyway. I spent hours filling the tube with sand and hammering the sand down and then filling it again and hammering it down again for 4 hours per tube. I would put it in the tube bending machine and I would roll it and it would all crease up and be absolutely horrendous and it was hell. This guy had given me a bunch of money to buy this bending machine who was just like where are my bends, quite reasonably. I failed at doing those and he was like "okay do you have a plan or strategy to resolve the situation?” - Honestly not really but I will work it out so please be patient and he was and was really nice to work with in that respect."
“Weirdly McLaren, or some dude from McLaren sent me a spreadsheet of things that you can and can’t bend and the tubes I had were in the you can’t bend it situation. Thats what freaks me out about his flipping downtube. It was in the you can’t bend it category. Maybe you can bend it a little bit. So I just did the bends anyway. I tried lots of times, they kind of weren’t perfect but I got them as close as possible and filled in the holes. The paint job guys sorted my life out in the end, they covered it in plastic or something I dunno what they did, They made it look pretty."
"Do you have any questions about Greyson Perry? No? Okay. Ill just explain my approach to the project."
"If your not interested, now you can leave."
"Do any of you guys know about Osho? So Osho was this like, I think theres a Netflix documentary about him now. He’s this spiritual leader. Or sex cult guy. I dunno, I wasn’t there. I became interested in Osho through frame building. No, I became interested in Bas Jan Ader through frame building. Bas Jan Ader was an artist in the 70’s. I went to art school. My first dissertation was about Bas Jan Ader who was lost at sea. He started this triptych of work and the first bit of that was called in search of faraway friends. He was a dutch artist making very uncool work in the 70’s. Sounds weird. This was when Andy Warhol was getting people who he thought was interesting and scanning their image thousands of time and reproducing it. Bas Jan Ader was really unsuccessful, making work that people deemed to be not masculin enough. Pop art and that era was really macho and kind of grim, lame and he made work about how he felt about that and didn’t have much success. He’d give these talks. He did a talk to an empty auditorium everyday for a week, which was him reading a newspaper story about a boy who drowned at a local waterfall while drinking a glass of water (takes opportunity to have a drink). When he finished drinking the water the story would finish about the boy drowning. But the triptych that he was lost at sea making was called ‘in searching for miraculous’ and when I started writing my dissertation I researched that, and that was to do with a book that he took with him. So he tried to cross the atlantic on the smallest ever boat 12ft long”. “Wasn’t it a round boat?” Someone from the audience asks. “Hmm….. No, I don’t think so. It was more like a little pocket cruiser, with a little cabin you can do inside. The smallest sea going boat basically. He didn’t prepare for it. He took some Snickers and an Evian with his passport and a lifejacket. He was a decent sailor."
"Anyway, ‘In searching for miraculous’ was title of a book by Ouspensky about Gurdjieff who was an early 19th century spiritualist teacher who kind of exploited a lot of people. Early 19th century you could get away with so much more than you can now. He didn’t have any birth date, he didn’t come from anywhere, he just did what he wanted. No ones going to Google you back then. He tuned up and was like "I know everything because I found a map that I stole from a Greek priest in Egypt, then I followed it to an underground temple in the desert where they forced me to dance for three weeks without stopping without eating or drinking and I came out and knew everything about the world”. He then started these schools where he’d teach people about pushing themselves to horrible limits where they’d start this high of plain functionality. This is the genius part, the first challenge to get into his schools was it would be super fucking expensive. So he’d say I don’t care how much money you don’t have, the first challenge is to make that much money so only rich people would go to his schools. So way later in the 70’s Osho kind of started this Ashram in India, which was just flipping mental doing this crazy meditation where your hyperventilating and shaking and theres people biting each others faces. It was just so incredibly far out and then at the end of it you’d have 10 minutes of silence to think about it and you’d all talk about what happened."
"Everyone in india was like this guy’s flipping crazy and we don’t want him to have anything to do with us. In the 70’s you could just get rid of people really easily by just telling them to go away or we’ll come and shoot you in the face. So he moved to America as he thought that would be safer. He bought a giant ranch and wanted to make it into a giant 50,000 people city in the desert, which is mental but he did it. So Gurdjieff who this guy takes most of what he has from, his big thing was you can learn to understand something in a set number of ways and all of those ways basically take your whole life so no one can actually understand anything. In the 1900’s if you want to be some clever dude you become a monk or a yogi. That is such an unbalanced view of the world. Gurdjieff’s thing was to try and find a shortcut to the end of that. So they could be a monk for 70 years and they learn one particular thing, but then you can’t learn what those other guys learnt because your span is finite so you have a one sided view of everything that you can’t do anything with, its so extreme.
Gurdjieff’s thing was to try and get people to experience as many things as quickly as possible and somehow learn from that, and thats kind of what Osho did where he did this really sick condensing of things. He took Zorba the Greek, which is a great book and a shit film and Buddha and kind of smushed them together and put this kind of hyper catalyst structure around that to make it perpetuate itself.
I’ve got a good video of Zorba the buddha and about how his life is tying to make all the Zorba’s dance with all the Buddhas hand in hand in a distill, because Zorba is love and you use love to cross the river of life. But once you cross the river of life you need awareness as a bridge to come back on and thats where enlightenment comes from. I think thats a really nice idea and I kind of really relate that to my practise, because people give me this thing to do where I’m like honestly I don’t know how to do that thing but I will probably work it out. So I approach it as an enthusiast and just be as enthusiastic about that thing as possible. Enthusiasm is basically just love for a thing and then cross the river of trying to do that thing and come back knowing what I’m doing, and sometimes customers get bicycles.”
APPLAUSE. "Hang on, I’m not done! Let me show you the video."
“Have you ever made two of the same?” - a member of the audience shout's out. "I made two the same for Tony because I kind of messed up the alignment on the first one. I had another customer who I made a double bendy top-tube for. I made the first one with no jig and that didn’t really work out so then I made it again and I got the measurement wrong and the top tube was like 3mm too short. I thought “the is a legit dude and he’s paying me an legit amount of money so his top tube should not be 3mm too short, he’s paid for the top tube the length he wanted it to be. So then I made another one - does that count, so yes I have. It actually worked out really well because I ended up selling them all”
We experience a few obligatory technological issues which seem to go hand in hand with any lecture or talk with a bit of speaker feedback thrown in on the side along with some audience intervention about keyboard shortcuts to access fullscreen mode.
"So yeah, Osho’s pretty cool and theres another thing which I feel really influences everything I do - Bas Jan Ader, who is the artist who I studied for a long time and indirectly led me to making weird bikes for weirdos"
"The other thing that I’m really quite passionate about is this......"
"I guess the only other really strange thing about building a bike for Grayson Perry was that obviously he paid me an amount of money to do it, but aside from that amount of money, the materials were incredibly expensive beyond what they ordinarily are for a bicycle. Theres a huge chunk of solid silver in this object here (sculpture on the front of the bike). The situation of applying that to a bicycle was like ‘how strong is that’? How much is that worth and how much is that worth. I shouldn’t worry about it but it really concerned me. The really weird thing is I build you a custom bicycle and it costs you say £5000 and that custom bicycle is then probably worth like £1000 max. Unless I do something with my life, which is fairly improbable, that bike is always going to be worth less than what you paid for it. The weird thing about this was its worth like so much, so much more. The amount of money that it is worth is so outside of the realm of okay. One of the reasons it can’t be here today is because he won’t insure it, I won’t insure it and you guys won’t insure it. So its really odd having made this object that cost probably more than all of the money I will ever come into contact with thats just going to exist as a memoir. No-one knows how much its worth until it gets sold. How much do I charge to build that. I went to art school for 8 years. So many hours went into it and its kind of a strange object for me. I find it hard to talk about"
"That photo was taken by a photographer called Thierry Bal and it was on show somewhere. I can’t remember where and the photographer was credited for the photo and Greyson was credited for his Greyson’ness but I wasn’t credited for making the bicycle, which I find really weird. It was in Harpers Bazarre and the curator of the Serpentine Gallery, who the show originally happened for. Theres an image of her riding that bike or standing next to it or something and the people who made her shoes are credited but I’m not. What does that mean. Its a really strange situation to be in. Does that get me more work in the future? Probably, yes and no.
Immediately after I did it someone commissioned me to make some bikes and they were happy to pay for the most expensive parts and they wanted some pretty unique wheels . I did a lot of research and found out how to make those and how much it would cost to make those wheels because I’d have to make 10 so its kind of almost feasible because theres 10. If there was just 1 it would be a bit mental. In the end I had to turn it down because although theres astronomical amounts of money in it. how much of that money do I actually get, basically none, not as much as the cheapest none registered plumber in Margate. I think its a bad lifestyle choice. Making really super expensive fine art objects for other artists and its really odd as well because before I started building bicycles that was my actual job. I worked in a fabricators and we did fine art fabrication where I got paid a lot more than I do now and now I’m like "why did I throw that dream job away" and it was the same. A guy would come with a set of drawings that didn’t make any sense at all, the most absolute tiny thing you could ever imagine on a piece of paper and be like “okay I want this 8 tonne steel wedge to float in the air…. above…. the queens house”. We all thought, you are deluded, this is not possible"
"Did you have any involvement with the colour scheme?" - Another audience member shouts out. “We talked about it a lot. We went away, we had another meeting about it then he gave me this thing of samples. The samples were a pink post-it and yellow post-it and a blue crayon. I then went to Cole Coatings and I forgot to bring the samples with me, but it was fine, I accurately described it enough. I feel bad for those guys. sometimes I go there and those days of work must be really hard. I’m doing to them what this guy (Greyson) has done to me, and giving them my emotional baggage.
"How long did it take from enquiry to delivery?” - "I think for what it was, not very long. It was also, "I have this amount of time, can you do it in this amount of time”, which meant everything else went on hold, It took about 7-8 months. There were other bits and bobs I was working on at the same time. Its really nice to work on just one thing but that is an absolute luxury that I couldn’t afford. So I always take on a lot of frame repairs, I love doing frame repairs because you learn so much from them. You learn where other stuff fails and then don’t make that mistake, and it pays better. If you charge £45 an hour for frame repairs people are like “Oh my god that is so cheap”. If you charge £180 a day using your brain so much that one ear glows red hot and the other ear dosen’t know anything about it, people are like “you charge WHAT, I cannot believe you can consider charging that much money, your charging me more than 35 pounds for a custom fork which will take you a day and cost you £180 pounds in materials - you bastard”
“Are you still happy with that you do?” - "err, yeah, I mean I worked in an office for a while and that was absolute hell. It wasn’t even a normal office, it was a weird hippy office where you had to sit on fucking beanbags and eat dahl together. Oh shit... some people know who I’m talking about, No but, no i don’t take it back. Your not allowed to work through you lunch break, sometimes I want to work through my lunch break. It makes me happy to continue working rather than know I have work outstanding while I eat. I don’t want to talk to you about dahl. We’re on Brick lane, I want a bagel."
"I recently built a house and that was super shit because you have to hang out with builders all the time and no offence but builders are all fucking morons. Literally the scum of the earth. I thought about not being a frame builder anymore and just being a murder and inviting builders into my house to quote for things and then murdering them and burying them in concrete. Sympathetic use of materials for the situation"
Host: "Right…. we’ve got time for maybe one more question, anyone else?”
"How did Greyson describe the thing on the front of the bike, what was that?” - “That was princess freedom, we chatted about that. We looked at a lot of images. He’s a big fan and I’m a big fan of the guy who’s the curator of the British museum. He did a podcast and also a book called the history of the world through a hundred objects. Its quite odd, its strange how ideas culturally appropriate themselves in the same spheres at the same time, always. The bike on my stand is the same as the bike on the stand next to me. but 5 years ago no one had that bike and in 5 years time no one will have that bike. It was very strange that he’d made this object, a fine art object of the past or a sort of cultural, religious object of the past at the same time as Damien Hurst was working on his funny thing, he found a load of stuff from the wreckage of a boat which he had a show about. It’s a talisman that you would take with you. The object meant something to him as an artist rather than a cyclist. Thats kind of the only flaw about the bike because it actually rides really well. Its 13ft long and 5ft tall, its massive, its huge. The brief was to make it as big as you can make it. I want to look like a little girl on this big bicycle and that was what I tried to do but it had to handle well because he was meant to be riding it everyday. I think one of the reasons he’s not riding it everyday is because of that thing on the front. He’s made an addition of them and there’re for sale so I don’t know how much they are but there’re a lot.
Question - “I was quite surprised when you said how much the thing on the front cost because I wouldn’t have expected that from an artist like Greyson whereas someone like Damien Hurst I would because he’s a total bastard”.
Petor - "I don’t think he is a total bastard. He’s my fucking hero, a great business person. But beyond that, Greyson is cheap. You tell people in America about Greyson Perry. “You guys have a transvestite potter who you give lots of money too for bits of mud? YES, durgh.
He is cheap, at a guess a Greyson pot will set you back around 50 grand and in fairness it is made of mud but if you were a real ceramics fan or you know, you can take out a loan. I lot of people can afford a pot if they really believe in it, thats what they love. People can stretch to that and its probably not a terrible investment.
If you look at other people in the same sphere or in the same part of their career as Greyson, you can’t buy a Rachel Whitereed, its a lot more expensive. And… I can cast the underside of my own chairs thank you. But then again, a pot is made from mud and mud is really cheap. You can have some expensive glazes but possibly without using precious metals and stones how much can a pot cost. Your paying for a persons time. I actually really respect Greyson for that. He makes a lot of pots, so many more than you see. I make a lot of bicycles, I do a lot of bicycle repairs. I don’t show that stuff because if I show the boring track bike I made some someone then other people will come to me and want me to make a boring track bike. In my head I'm thinking, “Buy a Surly Steamroller, it will perform the same function, probably better and cost a quarter of the amount of money thats fine, you should do that”.
Thats the cool thing about working with Grayson because he’s a guy that works, he doesn’t have studio assistants. All of the meeting with him were really cool and really interesting to go to his studio and see how he runs a business. Its a business and being an artist is a business. Its not this romantic thing, its not Patrick Swayze in ghost. “I’m just gonna do this thing with a pot and its gonna be so expressive” - “No”.
"For sure, Jackson Pollock threw some paint on the floor and that was exciting like one time but your not experimenting after the 100th time and your shagging the girl who runs MOMA and selling her paintings. Its just running an effective business where your materials cost nothing and your output is so unrelated to the money you put in. The only other thing like that is antiques or salvage where you buy an object for an amount and what you sell it for literally has no bearing on the amount you paid for it or that it cost to make or anything else. Frame building is the complete opposite of that. So buy my t-shirts please, this is a genuine, you have to otherwise I do not have enough petrol to get home. there’re £15…….”
So….. experiments, failures and in depth studies of intriguing unknown artists, the wacky races cartoon series, eating Dahl, hating builders and the value of various art forms. What is clear is that Dear Susan bicycles takes an artistic, sculptural, experimental but fun and functional approach to building bicycles. We’re hoping to visit his workshop at some point to take more of a sneak peak into the magic that goes on in there because he’s building some seriously cool and wacky bikes. By his own admission he isn’t the guy to build you a premium race bike to shred your local crit, but if your in the market for something truly unique, slightly strange, beautiful and handcrafted Dear Susan’s Peter is your man.
Petor's description of the build:
"This was by far my biggest and most exciting commission to date. it was essentially a big little girls bike. its around 10 feet long an five and feet tall, and it features an integrated plinth for the solid silver princess freedom at the front. although it looks massive and absolutely mad, Grayson is a cyclist, and needed it to ride well. its made from super strong and stiff 2" T45 tubes, and its geometry is akin to Graysons dutch town bike. It has very low trail to accommodate for the long back end and several kilos of silver that hang off the front. It has a dropper post (for wearing very tall platform shoes) and a Rohloff hub gear, as well as a custom chain guard and chrome plated Hope disc brakes with custom heart rotors mounted to a one off hand made hub shell. This project presented plenty of technical challenges, ad was a fantastic opportunity to meet and work with some really skilled and inspiring people on various details.”
Cole Coatings painted the bike up: Read about their involvement here.
Check out more from Dear Susan Bicycles here