The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following is a portrait session with Conrad Leach, an artist, former fashion designer, and early member of the Mean Fuckers MC in London.  We’ve featured Conrad in The Vintagent many times since 2006(!), he’s a kindred spirit and a great friend.  David Goldman caught up with Conrad in Los Angeles on February 15 2023, and asked him a few questions about motorcycling: the following are his responses:

Conrad Leach captured at The Bike Shed in LA, where many of his paintings currently hand, including ‘Speedway’ behind him. [David Goldman]

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Conrad Leach, and I’m a painter. I’m was originally from London and I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, and now I’ve made LA my home.

What was your introduction to bikes?

My first introduction to motorcycling or motorcycle culture, really, I was in West London and I bumped into a bunch of guys who were all riding vintage bikes. And they were all really cool individuals and people that I wanted to hang out with and be my friends. And they wanted me to be their friend to, and all of a sudden a bike was available.

Conrad Leach in his London youth, the Mean Fuckers MC days, working on his Tirumph. Amazing photo by Ben Part.  [©Ben Part]

I bought it off a friend of mine, and fell instantly in with a bunch of guys who were all young and rolling around way too fast, central London on vintage motorcycles. And that’s really what lit the fire for me. I always wanted, I think to be involved. I was always really attracted to the aesthetic and the attitude and what have you. But yeah, my story is not really growing up. I mean, I had bikes when I was a kid, but it was not really from there that made me sort of want to get really seriously involved. It was really the sort of social aspect of it in London at the time that I was there.

Conrad Leach with his painting ‘Wyatt’ as a Featured Artist at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours in 2006. [Paul d’Orléans]

How did you come to paint bikes?

Basically, I was a painter that got quite lucky. At the beginning of my career, I had a big show in London, and became the artist in residence for Louis Vuitton in Tokyo. And I was very well known for my portraits. But in my private life, I was very, very deeply involved in vintage motorcycle culture, so I decided to make a few paintings based on motorcycle culture.  they looked at the four most important aspects of motorcycle culture as I saw it, and a friend of mine showed them to Jared Zaugg who was just starting to put together the Legend of the Motorcycle event at Half Moon Bay in California in 2006.  And he asked me if I would show these paintings at his event. At first, I was a little bit peeved that my friend had told people that I was making motorcycle paintings because I felt it was too obvious that I was making motorcycle paintings, because I was so involved in vintage motorcycle culture. But I did agree and I liked Jared and I thought that his event was going to be amazing, which it was. And it was a real linchpin moment. I’ve met many, many people throughout the world who are still my friends today, as a result of Jared allowing me to attend the event, you know, with my paintings. I mean, all the paintings sold, and I met the most amazing people as a result.

Conrad Leach’s iconic ‘Lucky 13’ painting, which has since gone into various editions of silkscreen and woodcut print versions – check here for what’s available now. [Conrad Leach]

And it was sort of like the beginning of the roller coaster into motorcycle art. But it was never something that I set out to do. It was just merely a subject, like I just painted a load of buildings in LA recently.  As I said,  I was more well known as a portrait painter, particularly in Japan. I was painting well-known celebrities and developing a thing called Pop Ukiyo-E, which was harking back to the early days of wood cutting in Japan and applying it to modern culture, and also trying to blend the influence of Japanese culture, American culture and British culture. That was the original concept. And then I applied that concept to how to produce images of motorcycle culture. And the results were were pretty successful, or I thought they were pretty successful. And other people thought they were pretty successful. As a result, I am often now asked to make motorcycle-related paintings. And obviously, people see that logical link, between me and motorcycling and art, and blending the whole thing together with a particular aesthetic and a particular angle.

Conrad Leach in 2012 in San Francisco, captured on wet plate. [MotoTintype]

What is a great experience or story attributed to motorcycles?

Great experience as a result of motorcycles? I mean, I’ve had loads, the one that is very significant is obviously meeting my wife at the Motorcycle Film Festival, the very first Motorcycle Film Festival in LA. I was just here doing some charity riding for AMFAR and Kiehl’s. And the night before that event kicked off, a friend of mine took me to this film festival, the first motorcycle Film Festival of its sort in LA. And I bumped into my wife and that was the first time we met. And then subsequently, I came back to LA and had a painting show and got to know her a little bit better. And we decided to get serious. So you know, motorcycling completely changed my life.

From Conrad’s ‘United State’ series, exhibited in LA in 2011. [Conrad Leach]

Before that, I was rolling around London with a gang of guys, you know, doing my thing. And then all of a sudden, I’m getting very serious about a girl in LA, which was not something that I had planned, but I’m so glad I did, because she’s like a fantastic, fantastic wife and a fantastic motorcycle rider. In fact, I’ve ridden through the desert a couple of times with her: LA-Barstow-Vegas. And we took our bikes to Saitama in Japan, where she won the women’s section of the motocross racing, and another time she rode 60 miles through the desert with a broken foot. So, you know, I mean, that’s not the reason I’m attracted to her, but she’s got that motorcycle edge that I can relate to.

From the ‘Project Desert Rat’ ride in southern Utah, Conrad fords a stream in Capitol Reef National Park. [Paul d’Orléans]

What do motorcycles mean to you?

Well, it’s really hard to have a specific answer, because I think the umbrella aspect of motorcycles is something that really needs to be considered. You know, one minute it can be about long-distance road riding, the next minute it can be all about desert riding, the next minute it can be about how it makes you feel as a result of riding, how it gets you inspired, aesthetically, then by the way people perform either on a bike or the way that they carry themselves with their clothing or their attitude or what have you. I think that broad church of motorcycling is what the appeal is, for me. It’s not a particular thing, it’s the fact that it is truly for everybody.

Conrad Leach and Matt Davids (DiCE magazine) in 2016 at Wheels & Waves Cayucos, on wet plate. [Mototintype]

It’s very zeitgeist in a way; everybody is constantly trying to capture this lightning in a bottle around motorcycling. And it’s just constantly moving, is how I see it. I mean, I remember my experiences of motorcycling and what it did for me. And I know that someone a couple of years later had a completely different experience. You know, I think that’s the best way for me to answer the question – without really answering – because I think it’s that lightning in the bottle aspect of motorcycling. That is the appeal.


David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here. Explore all his stories for The Vintagent here.


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