“We had this most beautiful, pristine wooden box made to house the watches, Wes saw it and said: ‘Can we fuck it up?’ so we put nails on it and smashed on it, and we love it even more now,” says George Bamford. This is typical to the yin and yang relationship between a biker artist from New Jersey (Wes Lang) and England’s prestige watch personalisation company (Bamford). But it works based on their mutual respect for each another.
The five-piece collection launched at Dover Street Market; ornate though subtle engravings of motifs such as the grim reaper, birds, skulls and roses, all typical to Lang’s work, decorate a new range of Rolex watches, giving them a feeling of beauty and mortality. But it is not without the individual feel good aphorisms, such as ‘AFRAID OF NOTHING’, ‘DESTROY THOSE WHO OPPOSE’ and ‘BE YOURSELF GOOD TIMES’, christened in small red type against each watch’s black face that give the pieces their finishing Lang touch.
The watches are a play on light and dark; each taking two months to create, they are engraved in England using a special PVD coating process that gives them a mysterious now you see it, now you don’t quality. It becomes evident that longevity is Lang’s and Bamford’s meeting point and perched on the shop’s counter, the two collaborators speak to Dazed Digital about the significance behind these watches.
Wes Lang: I’ve always been obsessed with watches and I met George in London last year and we showed each other what we did and decided that it was going to work; it was all very easy.
George Bamford: Me in the suit and him the biker kid! If you go back to the old Mexican biker scene in the 70s, they used to hand engrave bike parts. And for us, it’s something quite cool. The beautiful side of doing this is we’re bringing in the ultimate artisans – the gun engravers – into the watch world. And Wes’ motifs are things that have heart and soul in them.
Wes Lang: Yeah, I build motorcycles and this really plays off of that. The style of the engraving on these fine timepieces seen on paper doesn’t make any sense at all, but in practice it actually works really well.
George Bamford: Wes and I went through all the paintings he’d done and selected certain elements that stood out the most to him. Many of the pieces feature more subtle engravings – I love how he likes to keep certain things hidden.
Wes Lang: Yeah some of the real gems are in the back. I like having things that have secrets that no one knows you’ve got. As for the symbols, a lot of my work in the past have been based on close friends or family who have passed away. Relationships that are gone, but still here, and it’s really cool to put them on a watch – it adds all sorts of deep-seated things to it.
George Bamford: It’s also really interesting to see art move into a mass-market product. It isn’t reminiscent of Andy Warhol but it’s a way of saying we’ve created a commercial product as a piece of art.
Wes Lang: Artists would’ve shied away from this sort of thing even just five years ago. But it’s been really fun for me to use myself in this way. This is the ultimate collaboration for me. It’s a luxury item but it’s now a work of art; and it’s about two people from two completely different worlds coming together to do something and becoming friends.
The pond between London and New York was the main challenge in this project! But we had enough face-to-face meetings in LA, NY, London, to know that we were both honestly anchored to this. It’s been just smooth. I try to live life that has less challenge and more action towards positivity. I choose wisely what I’m going to get involved with.
I'm drawn to darker imagery and I really like to play against that with texts that are very positive and try to teach you something about yourself. I read a lot of Buddhist texts and Ram Dass. I use a lot of Taoist thoughts, looking at the contradictions within us to being honest with people and finding a nice balance within you. Accepting that you’re both things. That is what my work is supposed to get out of you. The pictures are punches in your face, but the way I compose my work kind of forces viewers to walk around, to read it, and get involved with it.
Growing up in New Jersey and there’s a big chopper culture out there, with middle and lower middle class kids. I wasn’t able to afford to build bikes until I was 30, and I’m 40 now. I’ve worked with different people all over New York and California building some pretty amazing bikes for myself; that’s my lifestyle now. I’m an artist but I don’t go to every gallery opening, I don’t live like that.
Photos by James Robjant