By Lona O’Connor
A bicycle is only a bicycle until Ralph Papa makes it a vehicle of art. Papa, a Delray Beach artist and teacher whose works adorn the walls of museums and private homes, usually works on canvas, so the bike presented a new challenge.
The bike has the broad fenders and low-slung look of its 1950s vintage. It came from Jack Hairston, better known as Jack the Bike Man, who for 30 years has donated thousands of rehabilitated bicycles from his West Palm Beach workshop.
Susan Mullin, a Delray Beach fundraiser for Jack the Bike Man and one of Papa’s many fans, asked the artist to turn the bike into a collector’s item, to then be raffled off as part of a three-day fundraiser, a Holiday Trunk Show for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.
“I’ve spent about 70 hours on it, and it’s been a fascinating experience,” said Papa, whose studio is itself a work of art. Every surface, including floors, is covered with paintings, sketches, works from years past and works in progress.
Papa, well known for his paintings that preserve all the tropical light but none of the sweltering heat of local landscapes, has been working on something quite different recently: the interplay of colors to create a glowing effect.
“It’s an optical illusion that doesn’t exist in nature,” he explained. “When you put a lighter value color on the inside and a darker one on the outside, it forms a halo. I’ve done 15 paintings on this theme, and I thought, what can I paint on a bike, on a small surface.”
There are a few recognizable figures painted on the white base coat of the bicycle, including palm trees, cyclists and, of course, a portrait of Jack the Bike Man. The rest of it is covered with abstract shapes with the glowing interaction of colors.
Mullin, through a mutual acquaintance, made the connection between the artist and the bike man.
“I arranged to see Ralph’s studio, which is wonderful,” said Mullin, who has supported the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County for the last 15 years. “It will be fun to have it in our show.”
Once reassembled by Jack the Bike Man, the bicycle will be reviewed by Papa, who might want to make a few last-minute changes. Then it will be clear-coated and made ready to be on display during the holiday fundraiser.
Until then, no one, including Papa and Mullin, will have seen it in its entirety.
The event at the Seagate Hotel begins with a cocktail party and preview from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 28 and features 40 vendors of clothing, jewelry and gifts, raffled items and the Ralph Papa one-of-a-kind bicycle. The event continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 29 and 30.
Proceeds from the trunk show will benefit the Naoma Donnelley Haggin Boys & Girls Club of Delray Beach, one of 13 clubs in the county, which is at 1451 SW Seventh St.