Southern Kustom Hospitality with Chemical Candy Customs
By Jeff Alexander
Kush bike photoset by Matt James @dopeofwelding
Kush bike build by Scott Hoepker and Jim Harper
Artist Scott Hoepker has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of Texas’ premier kustom motorcycle painters thanks to his innovative techniques and painstaking attention to detail. Successfully transitioning from a helmet artist to kustom motorcycle painter, Hoepker’s big personality undeniably matches his captivating designs at Chemical Candy Customs.
“My dad was an artist, loved painting. As a little shit growing up, my favorite thing to do was just be in art class and work as long as I could. 15 years ago, I started pinstriping though I feel I wasn’t very good. Getting into bikes, my first bike growing up, a classic Honda 50 which my dad thought it would be funny to put ape hangers on it, I couldn’t even reach them! At 17, I got a Ninja 900 and I would just go way too fast on it; traded it for a Harley Sportster. I saw a lot of art designs in a magazine from Von Dutch and my interests took off,” reflected Hoepker.
Working primarily as a helmet artist and selling his designs thru ChopCult under the moniker Backstreet Buckets, Hoepker proudly stated his offerings always sold out, and with the increased demand, he further challenged himself to grow his craft and eventually transitioned to painting motorcycles. He stated he took a gamble when he changed his well-established reputation from Backstreet Buckets to Chemical Candy in 2013.
“I approached Biltwell perhaps 10 years ago, buying helmets. I would do goldleaf, metalflake. My stuff would sell out in like 2 days and the money was good. I was proud. I attended a car show in Dallas and was just so into this metalflake Impala, it blew my mind! I looked up J. Frannea and went to his shop to see if I could get any pointers. He taught at a local college, but I wasn’t a classroom guy, so I would come to the shop and learn from him, take notes, and watch every step. That’s the thing with a lot of new artists, they skip steps and rush their work,” stated Hoepker.
Scott has been approached numerous times via social media by would-be apprentices, perhaps offering an opportunity for Hoepker to repay the favor and become teacher to prospective student, much like his relationship with Frannea.
“I thought about how that could give back, so to speak but I learned very quickly that people aren’t very serious. This one guy lived no more than 15 minutes from me and would always show up late. I start working early and I’m very anal about my work, I feel I can’t trust people to do things the way I would want them done. I’m happy people are interested but it hasn’t really worked out.”
Hoepker’s designs have also earned attention from industry heavyweights such as Bell Helmets. He reflected on his 2013 relationship with the company.
“They reached out to me from my blog, who said blogs can’t be a good thing? Ha. They told me they had this new technology wrap machine that would allow for designs to be used on helmets and if I was interested in creating exclusive work for them. They were offering good money and I worked to create 5 different designs for them, which sold out very quickly. I thought it was an awesome opportunity because my work would show up as far away as Japan! My name was traveling far.”
The relationship with Bell concluded after Hoepker approached the company for a rate increase.
“I thought it was fair to ask for more money based on how well my designs were selling. Things didn’t end badly, it’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of how it all went because where Bells are sold, people see my work. It was a good experience,” stated Hoepker.
People continue praising Hoepker’s work at Chemical Candy and though grateful for the positive feedback and respect from his artist peers, he views success cautiously, especially within social media.
“Social media has been good and bad. I have seen new painters mimic my work online and pass it off as their own. The worst case I remember is some guy in British Columbia. He actually listed all my designs on his site and passed them off as his personal portfolio! He ended up personally apologizing and shutting down his business. It’s very annoying when people do things like that but in the end, what can you do? You can’t spend all your energy and money fighting these people. Things like that have really been getting out of hand,” he sighed.
Additionally, Hoepker views the ongoing influx of new artists and the growing of kustom kulture with a healthy bit of skepticism.
“The amount of new artists coming in is overwhelming. You see them calling themselves artists and then the small amounts they charge for their work. I get that it’s hard to put prices on these things but to inexperienced buyers, this waters down the market because they may say something like ‘How can you charge this when I saw someone else charging less?’ it’s difficult. I do think it’s great to have more artists involved but it can also create other issues.”
Kustom kulture has undeniably crossed over into the mainstream, allowing unprecedented opportunities for newcomers while also offering a resurgence for the artists that helped pave the way. Asked if he feels this can have a negative impact on the culture itself, Hoepker carefully responded.
“I do think it’s great to see older artists finally recognized for their work. On the other hand, it has negatively impacted the cost of bikes and cars, just look at all these auctions on TV, they price a lot of people out. There’s a guy I knew of, had a ’36 Harley Knucklehead. He put it up for auction and it sold for $230,000, that’s serious money! I reached out to the seller online to congratulate him, and he actually said he hoped for $30,000 more. You gotta be kidding me. I’m happy that vintage Harleys keep appreciating, that’s why I always seek it out. My favorites are all the classic Knuckleheads and Panheads because the motor lines flow so nicely.”
In a subculture now flooded with new artists and ultimately, more business competition, Hoepker is aware that he cannot afford to rest his laurels, even if he continues earning high praise from his peers.
“The way I keep pushing myself and with my work ethic, I know eventually I am going to reach the top of the mountain, so to speak. After? Could be a long, quick way down the other side. That’s why I think artists, in general, shouldn’t be complacent. I think they should always push themselves.
I know artists continue using iconic imagery like flying eyeballs and David Mann stuff. I don’t think that’s bad because Mann was really talented using storytelling in his work. That stuff will never die out but in my opinion, if you work hard to put your own twist on things, that helps distinguish you from the rest of what’s out there,” concluded Hoepker.
Originally appearing in Gnarly Magazine issue #15. Buy a print copy today!