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Internationally acclaimed artist George Dombek finds beauty in the form of a bicycle

By Michael Roberts
Photography By Meredith Mashburn/Courtesy of George Dombek

 
 
 

“Alot of people ask me how long it takes to finish a painting,” says George Dombek with a laugh. “I tell them I’ve been at it since 1960, so sometimes that means it takes 57 years.” We’re sitting in Dombek’s spacious, colorful gallery—a wonderland of lush landscaping, high ceilings and the paintings, sculptures and glasswork that showcase the talent and ability with which the Paris, Arkansas native has built his reputation as one of America’s finest artists. Not that George will actually admit to any of that.

“I don’t like to tell the stories behind my work,” he says. “Like good music, people should be able to interpret it differently. If I tell what I was thinking, it will color it for them.” But while the painter and sculptor is reticent to reveal the mindset behind his masterful representations of barns, bikes and other Americana, he is more than willing to reflect on how he got into the bike-art business in the first place.

“When I was growing up, I ran a paper route on a bicycle. And that was such a big deal to a child,” he says. “It represents the first taste of freedom—the first transition from being kept at home to being out in the world.” His cycling career hit a snag later in life, though: “In the 1970s, I had one of those 10-speed bikes. When I was about 24, I crashed it and that was it for my cycling career.” Nearly two decades would pass before bikes came back into his life.

“I was in Italy in the early 90s when I first began painting bicycles,” George says. Drawn to the lines and geometry of the spokes and shape of the frames, the result was a series of paintings that manages to combine an extremely realistic aesthetic with a sense of romance that George ascribes to that feeling he had as a child. 

From painting bicycles, George next found himself drawn to building them from twigs. “There’s a theme throughout all of this,” he says. “Everything builds on what came before.” This development led to something whimsical and wonderful for the artist: placing a twig-bike sculpture into a bronze-cast tree—a work that can be seen at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. “It started with being asked to do a bronze casting of a bike by itself. That project fell through, but the ideas stayed with me.”

George’s “bike in a tree” sculpture proved so popular that Crystal Bridges granted him permission to make five similar versions, four of which have been sold. The fifth stands in a quiet courtyard at his studio, a bronze-cast bike originally made from sycamore twigs hiding among the branches of a similarly cast apple tree. “We cut the trees up into smaller pieces and incase them in plaster,” he says of the process. “Then the wood is burned away, leaving a perfect mold.” The molds are used to make bronze versions of the twigs and branches, then welded together in such a way that even a close inspection can’t detect the seams. From a distance, the trees look real.

From painting to sculpture, the bike motif has informed a large portion of George Dombek’s art since those first paintings in Italy. These days, he’s transferred the images into a series of colorful glass pieces, many of which can be seen at the newly opened Preacher’s Son Restaurant in Bentonville. The stained-glass feel of the glasswork works well in the renovated church, adding a flavor that combines Bentonville’s past with its future. 

As for George, he’s made a decision that perhaps cycling is something he should get back into physically as well as artistically. “My grandson is nine,” he says. “He’s just learning how to ride. I think it’s a great time to get back on a bike so I can ride with him.” We couldn’t agree more.

For more information about the works of George Dombek, visit georgedombek.com.