Skip to Main Content
Common Tread

Stuff that doesn't suck: Makoto Endo makes motorcycle art, live

Mar 27, 2017

The Modern Classics show at Martin Moto is irresistible to me. It’s got so many of my favorite things all in one place: carefully curated antiques, hordes of attendees who are rabid about motorcycles, beer, and a guy who smacks a canvas with chopsticks.

Yeah, we’ll get to that in one second. First, let me plug the Martin show. This show is literally a year-long effort of finding the very best bikes on the east coast and showcasing some absolutely gorgeous machinery. The planning committee spends quite a while sourcing all manner of motorcycles, and regardless of whether you dig Harleys, Hondas, or Hodakas, Martin will have invited someone who owns an object of your affection. If the old bikes are not enough to keep your interest, live performance art is also available. This year, there was a fella carving a bear out of a big hunk of wood in the parking lot. Walk inside, and you could see the aforementioned guy slapping eating utensils against a canvas.

That fella is Makoto Endo, and if you’ve never heard of him, you aren’t alone. It’s rare I run into another motorcyclist who knows Endo exists, and it’s too bad, because his paintings are quite literally works of art — and so is his act of creating them. I’ve been watching him work annually at the Martin show for the last few years, and each time it’s delightful. He “paints” using nothing more than white paint, India ink, water, and common disposable chopsticks. Here, check it out.

Makoto Endo studied illustration and graphic design in Tokyo, where he later worked. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New York to work in the advertising business. Endo elected to begin painting full-time in 2011, and now paints publicly as a form of performance art. When I asked him what motivated him to turn his work into art (alongside his art!), he had a pretty succinct explanation. “I got fired!”

I was introduced to Endo's work at the modern Classics show a few years back. Each year, Dennis Martin and his crew have hosted Makoto, and each year he has tackled a different bike in the span of the evening and day that the show spans. This year, he painted a very special, very rare bike: a Munch Mammoth. Watching this happen amidst a floor displaying antique and collectible motorcycles is nearly indescribable.

The subjects he renders are amazingly well executed in terms of shape, proportion, and scale. The droplets Endo sprinkles about the canvas convey a sense of movement, obviously popular with motorcyclists. The level of detail, though, is what blows me away. I mean, it’s as easy to identify the motorcycle on a Makoto Endo canvas as it is in a photograph; Makoto leaves nothing to the imagination. Endo states he’s looking to paint the sound of the engine, which is actually a really interesting concept, given how animated his motorcycles appear.The fact he’s a motorcyclist should be evident, I would think.

Here's Makoto on his CB. Image by Makoto Endo.

Of course, I had to find out what his favorite bike was, a natural talking point for two folks who both love motorcycles. Makoto owned a 1994 CB1000, and chose that as his favorite. (A Big One! Neat!) He also expressed admiration for a stunning Vincent Black Lightning we both ogled at the Martin show.

I never fail to be amazed at what ingenuity my motorcycling peers display. Chopsticks. Who would have thought art like this was possible from a coupla bamboo splinters?

If you can, stop by the Modern Classics Show next year to watch Makoto do his thing. Or swing by his website and commission a piece. Alternatively, you could toss in the price of a plane ticket, and you can have your own party and watch him do it for you. Make sure you ring me up so I can clear out my schedule.