Is it possible to ride a bike from Minneapolis to Paris? In a way, yes. Ask Charles Youel, founder and creative director of ArtCrank, a company that combines biking and the creation, exhibition and sales of biking posters.
Did you just cram these two — biking and posters — together for the heck of it, like let’s combine sculpture and … pole vaulting!
No: “I was working in advertising, and I’ve always been a bike fan. Most of the people I rode with were art directors or designers, and when we were out riding we’d talk about the projects we wanted to do, something we cared about. I didn’t have any particular passion for financial services or herbicides. We should do cool stuff.
“I thought, we all like bikes, we’re all attracted to posters — we should do a bike poster show.” He laughs. “ ‘That’s a great idea!’ people said. ‘You organize it.’ ”
Everyone knows how the feel-good story goes next. Emboldened by a madcap idea, he throws off the corporate shackles and strikes out on his own! Well, not quite.
“I had to wait for the job to quit me. It disappeared in the recession to end all recessions, and I was faced with a choice — I’d been through layoffs before, but I wasn’t fascinated by going out and finding another job. I’d done one show, and got more fulfilled from these poster shows than I had gotten out of my job. If I didn’t see there was a viable sustainable business, I’d regret it the rest of my life.”
Which leads to Paris. Among other places. ArtCrank has had exhibitions in Minneapolis, London and one of the most impressive venues in the City of Light: “We did our first Paris show at the Grand Palais, which is like starting your baseball career at Yankee Stadium.
“If someone was to imagine a hotbed of bike art, they might not choose [Minneapolis]. Frankly the weather is actively trying to kill you half the year. But it’s a contributing factor to the passion people have for cycling. Come fall there will be a day when the mercury dips and it’s not so fun anymore. But you’re not ready to stop, so you buy warmer clothes, change the set up of your bike. You invent a whole new kind of biking that’s built around snow and inclement biking.”
But that’s just another poster-picture opportunity. There are many. “I had this nightmare before we got the posters that I’d get 35 versions of the same thing. It’s a bicycle. What can you do? But there are 1,500 posters in our collection, and none are alike. It’s the same range you’d see in any gallery — abstract, literal, subject matters from intense to casual. Any way you can think about art, you can apply to bicycles.”