Mike Ming Richard S. Chang

Among the work on display in Mike Ming’s aptly titled solo exhibition, “All Over the Road” -- at Nepenthes, a high-end clothing boutique in Manhattan -- are three mammoth-sized paintings with abstract brushwork, a few smaller paintings with tousled and intricate lines, a couple of surfboards, a carved-out skateboard and two motorcycle helmets with enamel pin stripes.

“I don’t have that signature, ‘Oh, that’s a Mike Ming work,’” the artist said at his Brooklyn studio one recent afternoon. “I think it just runs the whole gamut. The stuff I’m showing is all over the place.”

The same could be said for his influences, which seem to flow effortlessly from his many pursuits, including surfing, skating and motorcycles. For one painting in progress, it’s been dolphins. Ming saw a few off the coast of Queens (or the closest thing Queens has to a coast).  

null Richard S. Chang

“It was in Far Rockaway,” he said. “I was out early morning surfing, like a dawn patrol. I came out -- probably me and two other guys were out there. I was sitting there looking out and it was pretty good waves. It was kind of gray day. And in the distance I just saw this fin coming out the water. I wasn’t worried because it wasn’t a shark fin. It was a round fin. It was a school.”

He went on: “I met this surfer five or six years ago who surfs all the way out on Long Island. He says he always see dolphins. I was like, ‘Dolphins? In New York?’ But then he also told me he’d seen an otter. I actually saw one. One winter I saw one. I’m also really influenced by [Alphonse] Mucha – the Art Nouveau stuff.”

The Barnstormers Collective

Ming is a member of the talented Barnstormers collective, a loosely defined group of artists who made their name in the early-Aughts, painting murals on deserted barns in North Carolina. Barnstormer artists like David Ellis, Maya Hayuk, Jose Parla, Kenji Hirata and Rostarr, have established solid solo careers.

Ming may not be as recognizable a name, but over the past couple of years he’s collaborated with Ray-Ban on a line of custom-painted sunglasses and with Dell on a special edition laptops.

In the middle of his cluttered studio, in an old brick warehouse by the water, is a motorcycle -- temporarily out of commission and covered with Ming’s flowing brushwork and pin stripes, another recent influence that has spread to virtually every corner of the studio.

“The paint dries really quick, so much so that you don’t have time to really sit there and think about it,” he explained. “That’s why all those pin-stripers really knock them out.”

He traced the influence to five years ago when he was in Japan. He met Ken the Flattop, a pin stripe artist.

“We did a bunch of work with him in Dyz, when we were doing Dyz Experiment in Japan,” Ming said, referring to a gallery in Tokyo. “We were doing a group art show called Experimental Surf Art Shop. We had seven or eight artists come in and paint on boards, and the other artists did canvases or painted on products that were surf-related. And Ken does pin-striping and he submitted some surf boards and fins. And they were over the top.”

Ming began to pin stripe two years ago, inspired by the works of Robert Williams, a Kustom Kulture contemporary of Von Dutch and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.

Ming says there’s a distinction between the craft of pin striping and what he’s after. “Pin striping is very clean, very symmetrical,” he explained. “I don’t see myself doing the symmetry.”

“All Over the Road” is on view at Nepenthes through April 27, 307 W. 38th St., New York, NY.

For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter.

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