From working as an air traffic controller out of Wichita, burgeoning artist and motorcycle guy Jack Armstrong, who rode a Yamaha YZ250, decided to chase the Californian dream.
Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. As luck would have it, adventures ensued after a chance meeting at the iconic Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. It just so happened that the guy Armstrong was seated next to was Steve McQueen. During their conversation about cars, motorcycles, and McQueen’s stunt rider Bud Ekins, McQueen said, “Kid, get yourself to New York.”
After becoming a pool waiter at the Breakers Hotel, where he met Priscilla Presley and Farah Fawcett, taking the latter for a ride on his Kawasaki Z1000, Armstrong took McQueen’s advice.
In 1979, on his third day in The Big Apple, a chance meeting at Bloomingdale’s led to an Estée Lauder billboard modeling job. That job connected Armstrong to Andy Warhol.
Striking up a friendship with the legendary pop artist, Armstrong introduced Warhol to moto-culture and his Harley-Davidson Sportster. Armstrong and Warhol rode two-up around New York, hanging with other artists and visiting various art events. Motorcycles became a shared passion, and gradually bikes started to feature in some of Warhol’s art. Warhol dubbed Armstrong “The Last Wizard of Art”.
Warhol mentored struggling but evolving artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who sometimes slept on Armstrong’s couch before dying in 1988 at age 27 of a heroin overdose. Nearly 30 years after Basquiat’s death, his 1982 painting, “Untitled,” depicting a colorfully accented black skull, sold for $110.5 million.
During his 15 years in New York, Armstrong taught Michael Jackson the technique of painting abstract style and sold art to celebrities including Mick Jagger & David Bowie.
Armstrong was mixing more than paint and riding around town. His name was getting known by word of mouth, and life was developing excitingly for him.
As the bells of change tolled, club life in New York City became more low-key, and those heady times faded. Armstrong reclaimed all his art by 1997, burned it, and left New York.
Armstrong started over with his art in 1999, creating a new style of his own—Cosmic Extensionalism, or Cosmic X for short. He paints only in daylight, channeling his own energy.
Armstrong recalls meeting Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher in 2002 at a ski resort. Later, they rode Harley-Davidson V-Rods together. That is when Armstrong decided to paint one.
Armstrong unleashed his enigmatic flair, painting the bodywork of a 2009 V-Rod with his signature Cosmic Extensionalism style.
Launched in 2010 at Bartels’ Harley-Davidson in the tony Marina Del Rey seaside neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Cosmic Starship Harley was lowered 100 feet with Armstrong in the seat and ridden down the red carpet.
In 2012, The Cosmic Starship Harley was sold for $3 million. It is one of a variety of canvasses used by Armstrong to express his original Cosmic Extensionalism style.
While Armstrong’s art may take you out of your comfort zone, the energy of his work is apparent. They say the more you look at it, the more you become aware of the power behind the strokes and in the laying down of the paint.
An artist may have a desired outcome for his work. Yet, the viewer can feel a completely different emotion and sees a different interpretation spurred by the observer’s life experiences. Perception is an intuitive understanding; The Cosmic Starship Harley will have a different meaning for everyone.
There’s an energy and passion you can see in Armstrong’s Cosmic X work. He claims his DNA, hair, and fingerprints are part of all his paintings.
Interpret as you will. If this example of the Cosmic X style speaks to you, has made you think, or spurred you to talk about it, then the artist has tapped into your subconscious.
Fast forward to the present, and the Cosmic Starship Harley is back in the hands of Armstrong. Armstrong sold Star Key #733, another Cosmic X painting, for $50 million to the owner of the Cosmic Starship Harley. After the deal was completed, Armstrong returned the $50 million check in exchange for the Cosmic Starship Harley—essentially buying back his own V-Rod for $50 million.
Undoubtedly, this embellished 2009 Harley-Davidson V-Rod evokes something in you. Maybe it’s the $50 million value that is the eye-catcher.
Motorcycles and artists are a common association, from Von Dutch to Arlen Ness to Roland Sands and the builders we feature in our Alchemy section of the Ultimate Motorcycling magazine app. That’s the attraction—the application of one man’s imagination. Armstrong’s techniques and passion have created this two-dimensional work of art.
Hear Jack Armstrong speaking candidly with Arthur Coldwells on our Motos and Friends podcast scheduled to be published on Wednesday 24th August 2022.