By Jeff Alexander
Photos by Paul Cunningham
Nub’s path to kustom kulture deviated from the more traditional routes of backyard builders and artist trailblazers. His admiration for cartoonists such as Jack Davis and Don Martin drew him to art, and after several efforts of trial and error, Nub created a successful career as a talented sign painter. Today, Nub Grafix established itself as the premier spot in the Hudson Valley for all kustom paint commissions, and with his stint as a painter for Orange County Choppers, Nub continues earning jobs from far and wide while working to mentor all inquiring minds and rookie artists on his weekly live feeds.
“My uncle was into art, and I was really into MAD Magazine. I wanted to be a cartoonist but eventually transitioned and created a career as a sign painter. My dad had gotten his van lettered, and I thought it was awesome! It sparked me, so that is what first led me into art. Eventually, my brother purchased an airbrush for the sign shop, and I slowly learned how to utilize it. A guy I ran the shop with was really into bikes, so he had all the magazines around, like EasyRiders, and that got me interested in kustom paint,” reflected Nub.
Despite carving success as a respected sign painter within New York’s artistic Hudson Valley, the region lacked any cohesive kustom kulture community, but Nub’s passion for the subculture only grew.
Nub recalled only a handful of artists interested in custom paint, but the designs were mostly relegated to local drag cars.
“The guy we rented the shop from had a drag car, and he was talking about doing some crazy paint designs for it. In the early ‘90s, there really wasn’t anyone locally doing custom paint, but I worked at the craft because I truly believe you learn from trial and error and build more skill from screwing up,” laughed Nub.
Nub slowly transitioned from sign painting to slingin’ kustom paint, and as word-of-mouth spread, so did his ambition. He attended every local bike and car event, noting every nuance of design and execution he saw on any ride that caught his eye. Dedicating his time to learning techniques and the subculture’s rich history, Nub began earning the trust of the slowly burgeoning community seeking someone talented enough that could bring their ideas to life.
“Back then, it was Japanese car owners that were into ‘80s graphics and they were really into their cars. I knew my lettering techniques and was confident, but my pinstriping was thick. I was striping at a local bike show when artist Howie Nisgor approached me and was carefully watching me and asking questions like ‘Why are you using that brush?’ He said he would meet up with me and show me a thing or two and I’m still grateful for that. I became more confident and worked daily on my technique,” stated Nub.
The advent of reality television dedicated to choppers and moto culture elevated Nub within kustom kulture, as several new clients began dropping by the shop seeking designs emulating the flames and gaudy chopper builds that dominated television during Jesse James’ heyday.
“That chopper craze was a wild time because so many people got their first exposure to custom motorcycles. We painted so many flames on choppers, and it was always busy around the shop. This impacted me because I was able to earn a job painting for Orange County Choppers, which was certainly an experience,” stated Nub.
Asked if his tenure at Orange County Choppers was overall a positive one, he carefully responded.
“I’m certainly grateful for the experience, and it was lovely and horrible at the same time because the people I did the work for were not always the best. I found a lot of the deadlines were blown out of proportion and were created to spark drama for television. It was difficult because there were needless deadlines imposed on vendors, which was not necessary and did not make sense to me,” stated Nub.
He added, “I painted their bikes for 12 years and yeah, we did a lot of celebrity bikes, but I didn’t always know whom they belonged to. I did see a bike I worked on featured in a Mary J. Blige video and that was pretty cool and rewarding to see,” said Nub.
His tenure with Orange County Choppers drew to a close in 2013, but Nub stated there was no ill will after he decided to move on. Refocused and energized, he continued Nub Grafix, creating a strong shop identity dedicated to kustom kulture but with a staunch individuality that often clashed with customer ideas.
“Thanks to the internet there is such a great amount of accessibility and customers come in with photos asking if I can do this or that. I feel that can hinder creativity because it feels like they simply want me to replicate someone else’s work. So many people ask for Rat Fink designs, and I love Roth as much as the next person, but again, you’re not asking for my designs and my work, you want Ed Roth’s design. I love to take on work that sparks me to elevate my approach because, like any artist, doing the same thing over and over again hinders creativity,” stated Nub.
With his local reputation solidified, Nub continues earning commissions from far and wide, reinforcing kustom kulture’s global reach.
“I truly believe this culture is global. A lot of the early artists continue to earn their proper respect. I check out a lot of work from Japan because so much of their craftsmanship is mind-blowing! They have a huge following dedicated just to panheads and a lot of their fabrication is innovative to me. I feel inspired daily, and it doesn’t have to strictly be from kustom kulture,” said Nub.
With kustom kulture continuing to be reinforced as a global art, Nub clarified that social media has certainly propelled art forward, but he cautioned to always carefully examine information all too often passed off as fact.
“I am impressed with the hard work of others, but you have to be careful online because there is so much information being shared, and it can be bad, unreliable information. I would get so many messages asking me how I did something, so I decided to create live feed tutorials. Every Tuesday we do live feeds to kind of mentor people. The first thing I always tell people who are truly willing to learn; go get those hands dirty! We learn best from mistakes and grow from there,” concluded Nub.
Grab a copy of the all-new Gnarly Magazine, issue #20 (Fall, 2023)