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Me and my bike: Spoon Customs

James Spender
18 Apr 2019

From pipe dreams to galleries, Andy Carr shows off his latest Spoon Customs creation, a bike that blends function with the ultimate form

Artists collaborating on bicycles is nothing new. American street artist Keith Haring painted his ‘dancing men’ on the disc wheels of a Cinelli Laser, and graffiti artist Futura 2000 put polka dots on a Colnago Master Pista.

Even the late master framebuilder Dario Pegoretti could be considered an artist himself. 

Adding butterflies is no original concept either. Damien Hirst lacquered hundreds of real butterfly wings onto Lance Armstrong’s Trek Madone for the final stage of the 2009 Tour de France.

(Somewhat comically, U2’s Bono put Hirst onto Armstrong, saying he was ‘the greatest sportsman the world has ever known after Ali’, although at least the bike later raised $500,000 for charity.)

Yet a small, relatively new framebuilder from Brighton’s North Laine collaborating with a deceased artist through the medium of custom steel? Now that’s a story worth some investigation.

Let us introduce Spoon Customs’ most elaborate work to date, MC Escher and the metamorphosis of the steel bicycle.

If you can’t make ’em

Andy Carr did that thing so many of us would love to do. First, he ‘ran away’ to foreign lands. Second, he started making bikes.

‘About five years ago I decided to leave my job and I went to live in the mountains in France,’ he says. ‘There I decided I wanted to start a bike company.

‘I thought about importing titanium or steel frames, but the more I looked into it the more I realised I needed to learn about bike engineering and framebuilding, and that eventually led me to The Bicycle Academy [a framebuilding school in Frome].

‘I built a bike there, and tried to build a second one. But I’ve got a bit of a tremour in my left hand, so it became apparent that I would never be able to build frames to the level I envisaged.’

For some the dream would have ended there, but from his vantage point in Montgenevre, on the French-Italian border, Carr spied a third way – working with an established fabricator in northern Italy.

‘If you draw a horizontal line directly from Montgenevre you end up in Veneto, that golden triangle of the Italian bike industry. I must have visited 10 or 12 framebuilders there before I came across the one I work with now.

‘I brought my first frame with me and explained what I wanted to do. They thought I was this weird English guy but they also thought it was pretty cool, and really got what I was trying to do.’

While Carr says he doesn’t keep the name of the framebuilders a secret – he would tell any customer who asks – it’s not a fact he’d like widely publicised, so all we’ll say is that Cyclist has visited them and they are really rather good.

In Carr’s words, ‘If you’re not holding the torch yourself you’d better make sure you’ve done your homework.’

Art of the bike

This frame is designed by Carr and made in Columbus steel, a material that is the cornerstone of the Spoon enterprise and which in its own way presented an opportunity for the stunning MC Escher paintwork, executed by Cole Coatings.

‘Steel can be reactive and responsive in a way a race bike should be, but it can be compliant and offer an unmatched ride quality,’ says Carr.

‘It’s why Escher’s work seemed to fit so well for this bike. It serves as a metaphor for the transformational properties of steel, which change depending on how you build a frame and what tubes you use.’

A Dutch graphic artist prolific in the 1950s, MC Escher was famous for his mathematically inspired pieces, which often concerned impossible objects, such as Klimmen en Dalen’s infinitely ascending or descending staircases, or tessellating objects whose forms often borrowed from the natural world.

‘The artwork here is transposed from an original Escher piece of tessellating, abstract objects – as on the fork – unfolding into butterflies along the frame.

‘We worked with the MC Escher Foundation, so this bike is an official Escher piece. In fact, it’s one of two. We’re working on a second bike that will be painted white with UV-paint butterflies, which will be invisible in normal light.

‘It will be housed at the foundation’s gallery and lit by moving UV lights so the bike will have a dynamic feel, as if the butterflies are flying.’

A national gallery is a fine place to end up for a company just three years old, but it’s testament to Carr’s vision, conviction and attention to detail.

Yet one question remains – where did the Spoon name come from?

‘Well, normally you would use your surname, but mine doesn’t really fit for a bike! Spoon was my nickname when I was a kid. I used to work in a chippy and I’d spend ages stirring the gravy.

‘People used to think I was skiving, but I was just obsessed with making sure there were no lumps. So they called me “Spoon” because they said I loved spoons. But now it has come full circle, because I really do love Spoons.’

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