It’s all about the bike

Debbie Betts' "Alpine Climb"

An artist who took up bicycling and racing uses her skill to capture the spirit of the ride on canvas.

By Rachael Stillman/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu resident Debbie Betts captures bicyclists with the flick of her paintbrush, rather than the click of a camera. A competitive bicycle racer and lifetime artist, she is creating a rich and vibrant niche all her own using watercolors to capture colorful images of groups of bicyclists riding through pastoral lands.

An architect, Betts has been drawing and painting much longer than she has been bike racing. When she had children, she got back in touch with her painting roots.

“I was one of those kids that carried around a sketchbook,” Betts said. “I always enjoyed drawing. I went to school to be an architect, and I have been painting for a good 10 years. I really got into it again while I was raising the kids.”

The artist-bicyclist traveled abroad to paint in Normandy, France and Italy. Often, she travels with fellow artists on group trips. She has studied under the well-known artists Timothy Clark, Tom Lynch, Robert Tanenbaum, Glenn Vilppu and, most recently, watercolorist Gerald Brommer. She has had exhibits in Italy, France, Malibu, Los Angeles, and commissioned work from Pepperdine University.

Then there is Betts’ relatively new passion for bike riding and racing.

“I have always enjoyed biking. My husband and I bike race every year, and we like to take biking vacations. It is becoming more and more of an addiction. I have mostly done local circuit races. Recently, I have started doing longer races, and I am going over to Europe this summer to paint some bike races up there” Betts said.

Betts said she loves the natural high she gets from bike riding and racing, and has just started getting serious about it.

“I just got a trainer, and I am having a wonderful time. Just like with any sport, there is that adrenaline rush, the endorphins kick in. It does become really addicting; everyday you get up and you want to do it,” she said.

Fellow avid bicycler Kevin Steele encouraged Betts to combine her two passions.

“Debbie is a fantastic artist; she has done a lot of beautiful things both here and internationally,” Steele said. “She kind of fell in love with cycling recently, and I suggested she take her passion for cycling and marry it with her passion for art. She has done it in an incredible way. I haven’t seen too many paintings of cycling the way Debbie has done it.”

In general, Betts said, “there are not many people who paint bike riders and racers.

“There are a lot of photographers, but I can’t find a lot of painters. After all, it’s not exactly like you can get a group of bikers to hold still,” Betts said. “A lot of the painting has to be done by looking at photographs. Luckily there are some good photographers out there. I was inspired by some of Graham Watson’s bike racing photos.”

Although she only began this year, she has already had some good responses to her work.

“I’ve gotten some amazing responses, and then there are some people who think I am nuts. Some people can’t relate to them,” Betts said. “But on the other hand, there are some people who collect bike art. Bike art is hard to find, so some people have already told me that they want to come to my show early. This is the first time I decided to make some prints of my work.”

In her artist’s statement, Betts explains what she hopes to convey to her audience.

“… I attempt to share the experience of the solitary meditative peace found in solo training rides depicted in ‘Kevin’s rock store climb.’ I hope you’ll feel the intensity of the individual, all-out physical effort in ‘Lari’s race,’ and that you’ll understand the camaraderie of training as a team in ‘Solvang Training Camp’… And, of course, there is the common language understood, and unifying the riders, in ‘United Nations of Cycling.'”

For Betts, riding and racing emphasize the value of relationships that have no prejudices, and she delights in applying the patience she has gained through riding in other aspects of her life.

“Nothing comes easy, and nothing comes without lots of hard work,” she said. “And even then, there are no guarantees. But then there are those days when you’re riding down the PCH, taking in the beauty, with the wind on your face, and you know, it’s all about the bike.”

Debbie Betts’ exhibit, “It’s all About the Bike,” will be on display until June 18 at Tag, The Artist Gallery, 2903 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica. Gallery Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. An opening reception takes place on June 5 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. More information can be obtained by calling 310.829.9556.