Glory Roads is the vigorous retrospective of the drawings of Jim Roche. While celebrating the miles of American roadway that have passed under Roche’s wheels, the subtitle appropriately alludes to the many paths he as taken as an artist. He has, in fact, never stopped moving. He has led us on a whirlwind chase and we have been eager to follow him from his early works in clay and assemblage sculpture to installation and videography. The one constant in his career has been setting pencil to paper for ideas that ranged from outrageous conceptual parodies in the ’70s to the current body of motorcycle time trials with their vivid evocation of time and place.
Dirt-Dauber 365 TT for Ground Sport Motorcycles (2010)
JR: My daddy was a State beverage agent, bless his heart. Daddy was, a veteran, a two-time veteran, and a highway patrolman, but then he was a beverage agent. One of the nicest memories I ever had, in 1956, when I would soon be entering high school, my daddy was given a special car. It was a 1955 Chevrolet. I can’t help but tear up thinking about him. It had a Cadillac engine in it because they had to catch the “bad guys.” There was none of this pull over and call ahead for a road block. You either caught him or he got away. It was just that simple.
Museum: Then, it wasn’t a regular car, it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
JR: It was a wolf in serious sheep’s clothing. My daddy could really drive. I will never forget him. We were a little older then. We were getting into cars. I had already built my little go-carts. So my friend Dennis and I, Daddy told us to get in the back seat. We went out Meridian Road, when you passed Mutt and Jeff’s, there was nothing until you hit Thomasville Road and then nothing, just a few houses. I will never forget my dad in that car. We got down in our seats with our big eyes open like this, and he took off.
Meridian Road at that time was just a canopy, a tunnel. I remember how it became so fast, as they say, that the telephone poles looked like a picket fence. We were rolling. I never forgot that. I always loved driving and I always loved speed. Over the years, everywhere I went, whether it was in California, or Missouri, or Arkansas, or the Ohio Basin, Georgia, Texas, I kept notes of favorite roads. Now, as I am in the twilight of that part of my life, I’ve decided to capture those, write down what I know about them, and make them into maps, those roads I have ridden; I know what’s there. Like I say, I never thought it would be of much interest, but the drawings, people come up to them and they say, “Hey, I know that plac
1963 BMW R69S (1973)
JR: I have loved motorcycles all my life. At this time, I had already begun to think in terms of how to transform a vehicle into something that over-exaggerated the nature of everything around me. I never did a motorcycle because I don’t think I could shake away from the need for a motorcycle to have precise stopping, precise lights, and everything else. I proposed one. This is the first BMW that I ever owned. I had had bicycles, motorcycles and all, but my life changed when I got a 1963 R69S and really about 1971, it changed me. I used the distinctive look of a BMW, which with the cylinders coming out from the side and these, what is called an Earles Fork front end, highly recognizable, suggested things that we could put on it to do it up, so to speak, to do the motorcycle.
All these small sketchbook drawings were done on 100 percent paper, rag paper, but it was notebook paper like you still see, today. At that time, I was fluent, though I obviously could not spell. I could spell my name and various things that you absolutely needed to have, but the piece wasn’t about that. If anything, I like remembering the drawings where you don’t have confines. No constraints, you just have at it. Get the idea down, quickly, make sure that it’s readable and make sure that someone doesn’t have to know art for them to know what you’re talking about. Do a drawing anyone can understand.
The Sunday Morning Run (1981)
Museum: How did you find these roads? Were there other riders who had maps before you started making your own?
JR: No. That’s the beauty of it. You just go out and find them. Of course, when we first started to run motorcycles in Tallahassee, and with me that would have been when I got my first Ducati in 1966, we were riding much closer into town. We would just wait ’til the evening, and then when the sun went down, we went out. We were all over, Tallahassee was so small. Later, you began to venture further and further out. Even when I came back from Texas some of our loops were closer in. We would be off of what is now Velda Dairy Road and then Bradfordville, in that area. We would run back towards Lamont and down towards Wacissa and back in, even end up in Woodville, then back. You also began to find out where the churches were, where people are more likely to get you in trouble. Wakulla County is an example. Not to be prejudicial, there are just too many people drinking on the road to take a motorcycle down there. You usually try to find places that are isolated.
Jim Roche, The Sunday Morning Run, 1981, ink drawing on notebook paper, 11 x 8.5 inches; annotations: 10/18/81 114.4 miles 1 hr 35 min even 72 mph; 11/8/81 114.7 1 hr 19 min 87.11 mph personal record. [facing page] Jim Roche, undated evolution of The Sunday Morning Run, graphite and marker on notebook paper, 11 x 8.5 inches.
The Texas “Hill Rabbit 1000” Mile TT and its two internal loops (2006)
JR: No, not a race. A time trial. Well, it is, if it is like the oldest on-going race in the world, on the Isle of Man. That is a T.T, a time trial, where you have a certain distance. In that case, the IOM (Isle of Man), it is thirty-seven miles and you run it six times. You are going for timing, how quickly you can do that. It is not like a rally, where you establish a speed you want to get to. The time trial is where you are running on real world roads. It is not enclosed track. In that way, it is really what “road racing” used to be before it moved to tracks.
The “Knob, Hollow, and Run 350” Mile TT (2006)
JR: You have your own individual days of reckoning however you come to it. [One day] I had come back from Alaska on my BMW. I was young. I got up one morning after I had been working on the bike and I had on blue jeans and just a set of tennis shoes and a tee shirt, which you should never do. I always ride in full leathers for protection. All I needed to do was go to the Safeway store, but the center stand on the bottom of my bike had two springs to pull it up. One of them had broken and the other one wasn’t in such good shape. I was feeling so good that day, I had just tuned the bike and it was going great and I was just having fun at that point in life and so I deliberately picked a manhole cover that sits up a little off the road, just five or six inches up, in order to ride over it so I could test my suspension. When I hit that and went up, the other center stand spring broke. The center stand dropped down. When it hit, it hit flat on that manhole cover and immediately I was thrown end-over-end with the motorcycle right down on the pavement. It was just the first time I had ever been thrown that hard onto hard pavement. [That was] a bad wreck. It took me a long time to heal, I didn’t break anything on my body, but I was completely black and blue. The drawing had influence, certainly for my friend Ree Morton (who would later die in a car accident). Ree did a piece of flags that named everybody she was really touched by and a couple of other artists did the same, but hers meant more to me.
Not to get religious with you or spiritual with anyone, but I’ll speak for myself: when that happens to you, the epiphany is instant and real. The bike went end-over-end, I went straight. I’d been running about forty-five mph on hard, no kidding, pavement. I never touched anything but pavement in the roll. There wasn’t a place on me that wasn’t blue. So I thought if I had died then, and these people that meant so much to me in my life didn’t know that they had meant anything or that I remembered them or that I never told them, what would it be like? I couldn’t have that. I went home immediately and started the drawing and it starts with me naming people, naming friends, naming situations. I was writing over things. Names like Shep, Beowulf, and Ladybug were all dogs I had. Wiggly. I had dogs named Autopsy and Crush and stuff like that. Then I would come back to influences: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo and so forth. And then the friends from one time or another. I was in the school of narrative; I was also taken with how narrative could be used.
The Eastern Loops
Museum: The accident with the deer was fairly close to home.
JR: I hit the deer right on Meridian Road at the Georgia line. I was coming in from Beachton. We turn at Rocky Hill on Hadley Ferry, go to Gainey Road, go to Lower Hawthorne and then on around. As I crossed the Georgia / Florida Line in 2005, I didn’t hit the deer, I vaporized the deer. Have you ever seen the picture of it?
Museum: No, but it’s probably best that way, thank you for asking.
JR: It’s actually a wonderful photograph because so many people thought it was faked. People thought it was a fake photograph. The deer is in perfect repose, except it looks as if it has been surgically . . .
Museum: … bisected?
JR: Bisected. Because I was running, I won’t use the exact speeds, let’s just say the speedometer had three digits showing. I am very excited because I am still working on these drawings and down here I say that I am still studying for my open road motorcycle finals.
The Havana TT100 Open-Road Motorcycle Loop as it has been run by Jim Roche since 1977
Jim Roche, detail from The Havana TT100 Open-Road Motorcycle Loop as it has been run by Jim Roche since 1977, graphite on paper. Photo credit: Jon Nalon.
Cover: Jim Roche, Dirt-Dauber 365 TT for Ground Sport Motorcycles, in progress in 2010, color pencil on paper, 33 x 50 inches.
The Quincy 200 Open Road Motorcycle Loop
The Blue Ridge 500 TT (2004)
So there is Route 60 where Thunder Road was filmed, here is Suches. That is Morganton. And Suches is right down there. Actually, kind of at that intersection. I didn’t put the town in. This is State Road 180 over Wolfpen Gap. Blood Mountain. Of course, the Richard B. Russell Highway, Scenic Highway. These are classic roads: Wayah Bald Road, Ellijay Road. All of these are known motorcycle roads, as I said, the number one motorcycle loop. Later, I would expand this map, much more detailed, much finer drawings. If we go in though, each time there is a road change, you have a slash mark for an intersection. Later, I would color those in and I sometimes would highlight areas.
Jim Roche, The Blue Ridge 500 TT, 2004, graphite and color pencil on paper, 23 x 29.5 inches
The Blue Ridge 500 TT 2 (2004)
JR: Oh, man! We’ve been talking about motorcycles here, but we have it easy! We have it safe! In the afternoons when we go down there, about five in the afternoon, after what little traffic there is coming home, there are only a few people coming home, the bicyclists show up. Some of them speak English and some don’t because they are from all over the world. They paint their clothes on. Their protection —they don’t even have any. They paint these things on that look like clothes, almost, that’s how thin they are. They don’t practice their up-hills. They only practice their down-hills with the cars. . . . Here I am in full leather. I’ve got Metzler tires on my BMW that are as soft as chewing gum. You can’t make them slide. I’m talking about the newest equipment. So when you see a guy, here he comes on a little tiny tire, the diameter of which is about the size of a nickel and he’s running forty-five through a corner that I can barely run forty-five through, it’s terrifying. The bicyclists love these maps as much as the motorcyclists.
The Dog Head (2004)
Museum: To average eighty-eight mph, math is very useful. Scary useful.
JR: You’ve got to be rolling to do that!
Museum: But coasting through those church zones.
Jim Roche, The Dog Head, 2004, graphite and color pencil on paper, 30.25 x 44 inches.
The Tallahassee Crown 750TT Open Road Motorcycle Loop
Jim Roche, The Tallahassee Crown 750TT Open Road Motorcycle Loop, 2004, graphite and color pencil on paper, 29.5 x 41.75 inches.
The Tallahassee Crown 600TT (2005)
JR: Often, I will draw things like escape routes and short cuts. I will show places where, if you didn’t want to go out to some of these very obscure areas out here, you cut through. When I first started these drawings, I had no idea that they would be for anyone other than myself and my motorcycle friends. That was it . . . and bicyclists. But the very first time we showed them in a museum setting, I noticed that people went to them and just stayed in front of them, especially when I showed these at SECCA in North Carolina (Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem). There you had variety, multiple types of art; people came over and really studied some of these drawings.
Jim Roche, The Tallahassee Crown 600TT, 2005, graphite and color pencil on paper, 35.75 x 64.5 inches.
The Missouri Cave Bat 500 Mile TT (2006)
You’re on the Arkansas / Missouri border in the Mark Twain National Forest. You go to different parts of the country for different reasons. This is one where it is up and down hills all the time. You have curves, and the real thing is that they don’t mind just sending you right off of a hill right into the nowhere land on the other side. It’s a rocky terrain, very interesting roads that demand a different type of attention, really isolated. Any time you are in Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri, you are out in it. There’s very, very little in this part of the country.
Jim Roche, The Missouri Cave Bat 500 Mile TT, 2006, graphite and color pencil on paper, 36 x 48.25 inches.
Southwest Missouri “Rocky Comfort 350TT” Open Road Motorcycle Route
JR: “Corner Worshiper” is someone who is a motorcyclist — bicyclist, either one — who really does get their thrills not just in the driving or the scenery or the road, but in the actual finessing of corners at high speed, even if they are very sharp. If you are in a hairpin corner doing forty, you are still really, really running. Get down here where we run in the South and out in Texas and parts of the Colorados and you begin to be increasingly competent at higher speeds, where you are running sweepers and complex sweepers. That’s the kind of road we have here. When I go up to the mountains, it is an entirely different world because your speed never gets very high. Yet, your intensity and your consequences, in case there’s an accident, remain very high on all of these. This is an example where I have a contiguous route: that’s the orange one, which would be the Thomasville High Speed Endurance Loop. Then you notice, there is a blue, a green, and a red for internal loops.
The Bear Hair 100 Mile Time Trial For Open Road Motorcycles
Jim Roche, The Bear Hair 100 Mile Time Trial For Open Road Motorcycles, 2008, graphite / color pencil on paper, 33.5 x 34.75 inches.
The Buckhead 300 Mile Time trial Loop for Open Road Motorcycles
JR: Dr. Curve was a name I did not invent. It came about when I left Tallahassee in 1987. I had been talking back and forth for years to the guys in California. I was building engines and the like. By that time quite frankly, everybody in California assumes they are the best riders in the world and when they hear a whiney Cracker accent like mine, they just think, oh my God, it’s another carhop down there in the South. A flatlander, they called us.
They started a race called “The La Carrera Mexican Road Race.” It has a wonderful history that goes back well into the fifties, where you are running cars on very, very difficult roads in Mexico. In approximately 1986 they reinstated it to run from Ensonata to San Filipe. So, you cross the Baja, three mountain ranges: the San Andreas Fault is right there. You go through three mountain ranges and you end up on the Sea of Cortez and then down to San Felipe. That road was built by the French and it is an extensive road, extremely dangerous. Our motto for the race was: “No guardrails, no hay bales, no snivelers allowed.”
The Gila Wilderness Sky Dog 500TT (2006)
The Colville National Forest 310 TT (2006)
The “Dixie Cup 250” (2004)
My recent interest is in Indian trail trees. There are a couple of books on it, but not many, for some of us who have an interest; Indians would mark roads by bending an oak tree, most often an oak tree, I think, occasionally a chestnut, but oaks, primarily. While it is little, they would bend it over, cut it and make it turn in certain ways so that it grew out and pointed, often towards the trail for water, or in some cases, the trail might mark where they were going to be hidden. Especially during the Trail of Tears; there were quite a few cut to mark a direction where they may have buried things, or to caves and the like. On these very roads we might see an Indian trail tree, that’s a real rare find. It is a big deal to find a trail tree. The roads that we’re seeking, even in California, because there are extensive roads in California, Northern California as well, but those are Indian trails that then became gravel and then became pavement. It’s no fun, if you are a corner worshipper, to just ride down the road — cruise, you know, cruise.
Havana North Section
Jim Roche was interviewed by Allys Palladino-Craig, MoFA Director, in several sessions in June of 2010 during which the images for this publication were reviewed; Stacy Tanner, Graduate Intern, transcribed the interview, and clarifying details in footnotes have been made with the Artist’s subsequent assistance.