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Paul Cox Starts A New Chapter
Article By: Chris Callen
Originally Published In The July 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
The stories and images that have come out of the New York chopper scene have riddled many a young man’s dreams, and if you are from the East Coast, it has been the epicenter of a movement that spans decades. But time takes its toll on any institution, and like many other culturally based movements, the NYC Chopper scene has reached a point of change, at least for many of my generation. The names and spaces have started to get replaced with new names, high rise condos and even most of the iconic hangouts have long since faded away. Not all is lost as the winds of change sweep through our time, there are still some keeping the torch lit in the city but with the rising cost of living within the hustle and bustle combined with the disappearance of single-level workspaces, it becomes much harder to do it there, than it is to do it anywhere. Just a short 2-hour drive from the city, in the town of Port Jervis, is evidence that some do make it out of city life with T all intact. There you will find one of the original players from the 6th Specials crew; Paul Cox. Now of course Paul is much more well known by the masses from his time with Indian Larry and the beautiful, handcrafted leather seats he has made a career from, but as Paul makes this important transition from city kid to country boy, I wanted to share a little more of his 30 years in the trenches of New York. It is a tale a man chasing his art, no matter what media and one of every New Yorker’s Dream.
Paul came to the city fresh out of Virginia Commonwealth University where he studied art. He grew up in the Richmond area so landing his first gig as an in-house fashion illustrator for a couple of stores was a big deal. See, back then you had to be published in magazines and newspapers to get recognition for your art, and Paul’s work was in print every day. After hours he did everything he could to take his art to the next level. Oil painting and sculpting were truly his passion, and he worked as hard getting into galleries as he did at the creation of the art itself. After a year or two, he became exhausted with the corporate art world and all its politics. On the flip side, he was a young artist in the East Village’s hay day, doing installations at galleries and making art. It was like two completely different worlds.
During this time in the late 80’s Paul happened across a place in the Lower East Side called 6th Street Specials. The Owners Hugh and Demi were building what became one of the cornerstones of the East Village bike scene. This is where Paul met Indian Larry and between that meeting and that place things would start to change forever. As Paul began to do more of the bike stuff, the leather seats and the fabrication, the corporate art world began to drift further and further away. By the early 90’s Steg and English Don had SD Cycles going in Queens, but it wasn’t long until Steg was moving out on his own and opened the now Infamous Psycho Cycles on Avenue C. Larry had just come back into the neighborhood and was starting to get his life back together and decided to take a job at Psycho. Now, this was a tiny storefront, so small in fact that each day they had to roll out all the bikes just to have enough room to work.
Paul remembers walking in and seeing a child’s school desk and a little tin tool box with some tools where Larry worked on bikes on the floor. Although it was humble beginnings, everyone there started to perfect their skills set, and Paul found himself doing more and more of the motorcycle work. Soon enough, as New York Real estate forces, they were moving Psycho Cycles to the Lower East Side on Rivington Street. This is where Paul came on full time, leaving the corporate art world behind him. His play was two-fold. He rented a spot in the basement where he did his leather work and had a spot in the shop where he was one of the crew from Psycho Cycles doing fab and the like. There were great times down there, Steg had a music studio in that building, Larry was really becoming a fixture in the scene again, magazines like Iron Horse were paying all kinds of attention to what they were doing, and Larry was building Voodoo Chile, one of his most iconic bikes still to this day.
Don had moved SD Cycles to Hells Kitchen making him the Uptown Chopper Shop, and with Psycho in a downtown location, a friendly rivalry ensued. These guys were doing more than just setting a pace; they were laying the foundation for an entire culture. You see, Steg was firmly entrenched in the music world, and his ol lady was a seamstress for a lot of the bands so in her spare time she made all of their clothes. When these cats showed up somewhere they were like rock stars in full leather on handmade machines and the East Coast would start to get known for that flair in their bikes and the clothes they wore. They rode as hard as they partied too, which is how the bikes took shape. They were built for real purpose that anyone who has ever ridden with these cats in the city can tell you they needed to be. Fast, nimble and skinny were how they had to be built because they rode like they were running from the man. Which sometimes was probably the case. In any event, it was a time that created a subculture, put names in the chopper history books and will forever be a special moment in time for so many of us.
But again, the price for doing business in the city comes at a hefty cost and soon after SD Cycles closed up shop just as Psycho need to find another location. This is real life in New York, lease comes up, landlord looks to make a better deal with the condo folks, and you have to find another spot and move 300 tons of machinery and bike parts. So as luck would have it, Psycho Cycles took over SD’s place and moved to 37 Street, just across from the Javitz Center. It was a crazy time and really intense too. All of these moving back and forth from shop to shop happened it just a matter of a few years. When they talk about New York being fast paced this is it! Obviously, the story continues with Paul moving into the building with Indian Larry that had his name on it, the Biker Build-Offs and all the hoopla of the past ten years or so since Larry has been gone, but this story is about the next chapter of Paul’s life. Since the Legacy Crew disbanded, Paul has had Paul Cox Industries not far from Larry’s last shop where he continued to craft some of the world’s finest leather seats, custom motorcycles, and amazing handmade knives.
Oh yeah, if you didn’t know it, this cat is a top-notch bladesmith, working with exotic materials and specialty designs he has as much art in his blades as you could see from a Gil Hibben knife. Finally, at the point of being out on his own for a few years and getting into a rhythm, Paul was faced with the proposition of having to move again. The end of a lease story again, the idea of finding another spot again, all that moving again, he decided to take the advice of his wife Anne and take her up on the offer to share her space in Port Jervis. While she and his daughter still have things going on in the city, this is the beginning of an exit strategy for the whole family. For now, Paul is content in working out of town during the week and making the commute to spend time with them on the off hours. Although this gives him an easier option for one last move, it does close the chapter on New York City’s Brooklyn Berserker and the story of a young man who came to the city to kick ass. So, when we had the opportunity to catch up with Paul, we had to ask him about what he takes away from the city, what this move means and how he really feels about it.
Paul: “At this point, besides spending more time with my family, I don’t feel bad about stepping away… The city isn’t the same as it used to be, or at least for me it has changed… I did what I came here to do, and now when I go back, it’s like I have a fresh perspective, not weighted down anymore, so it’s actually a better one.” We went on to talk about his work and the fact that he believes this will give him more room to stretch out and do more of his own thing. Not having the pressures of the day to day that it takes Paul feels will open up his creativity, and he can start to expand his reach. The idea of pulling out the canvases again, closing the doors to the shop and creating is an exciting proposition for him. But in our discussion, we also talked about how the world of social media has taken away as much as it has given to our culture, and for that reason being in the city isn’t like it used to be either. Before the onset of social media, being in the city made the scene somehow more valid or more valued.
The people there that built bikes were feeding off each other, and the inspiration and influence came from everything around them, right there in that moment. Today there is more global exposure and a miss mash of ideas in all of it. Everyone takes inspiration from everywhere, whether they know it or not. Social media gives instant access to the world so what you do can’t help but be inspired by popular trend or innovations that are happening halfway around the world. Paul and the NYC builders used to have to go out in the world to get recognition for their work or wait for the magazines to find them and show the world. What used to take years to accomplish in the career of a builder now takes months. At the same time, it takes away a lot of the intensity from the local scene too. Almost like there are no surprises. Paul remembers when people would show up at Psycho Cycles from Japan, how it would just blow their minds that anyone from that far away had even heard of them, but today things are much more generally known, homogenized in a way. It makes it harder to be impactful, to really stand out.
Paul: “There is no going back, it’s just life! You can’t be aggravated by it; this is just how people are coming up now. The only thing you can do is to decided to do it the way you want to and just let people decided how they feel about it. The people who dig it and want to find the under layers of where this all came from will appreciate your work.” Paul feels like his work is still just daily life through art, no matter what media he works in. From knives to bikes or even on the canvas all the same, rules apply. They can be the most exaggerated or the most subtle. Things like the silhouette, adhering to the golden rule laid out in Fibonacci’s coil are all universal philosophies that give your work the look of being right, or not so much. For any true craftsman, the process has as much value as the end result. A man like Paul takes pride in his work at every step from inception when he draws out his designs, to the procedures he has learned from years of working with the material to the finished product that is no more or less than the sum of all the steps that lead to its creation.
In his new spot, Paul has a great big space where he will forever be able to turn out incredible works, and he sees this move as a rebirth of sorts. Now well celebrated internationally for his work with leather and with motorcycles we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. At the same time, it still marks a turning point for us as a culture. The city will be a little less busy from here on in. Names of the men who have passed like English Don, Indian Larry & Dimitri Turin, although in our personal account of the history of our culture, begin to fade. Spots like CBGB’s and the roar as a pack of leather-clad wild asses roam the streets, sworn to fun, are slightly more muffled. Even with a new crowd of young guns splitting lanes and making new memories, for us this marks the evolution from one generation to another in the capital of east coast cool. Long Live NYC!