T Musto left college dreaming only of motorcycles, despite his newly earned degree in business administration. In the ten years since, he has devoted himself to perfecting his craft, building up his own motorcycle fabrication and customization company, and creating novel solutions to streamline motorcycle design. In his spare time, however, Musto has used his welding experience to dive into the world of art, turning visions of sculptural projects into a reality. Though initially reluctant to take on the title of ‘artist,’ Musto recently reconciled his relationship with the term, realizing the artistry, emotion, and inspiration in every project he takes on. This change was catalyzed by his longstanding friendship with the artist Jamaal Eversley, and has resulted in several collaborative works that will be featured in Beacon Gallery’s R.E.A.L. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. exhibition running through November 1st this fall. Ahead of the show, Musto shared the details of his path to creating art, his history with Eversley, and what inspires his work today.
What was your path to creating artwork? How did you develop your artistic style, and how does your experience with motorcycle production influence your art?
The relationship between motorcycles and art is more entangled than most may think. This was really demonstrated for me by mentor for whom I apprenticed, named “Copper Mike” Cole. While apprenticing, we would build custom motorcycles and motorcycle parts during the week, and then on the weekend we would come into the shop and he would have ideas to build various art pieces: everything from copper guitars to tables. We would also bring bikes and some art pieces to various shows ranging from Art Hamptons, to a gallery in Chelsea, to Basel in Miami. In addition to this foundation that he helped create for me, the motorcycle world really embraced the artistry that went into a custom motorcycle. In fact, one of the largest and most prestigious shows in the country is an event in Sturgis that is curated by the top photographer in the industry, Michael Lichter, and it’s known as Motorcycles as Art. And each year Michael Lichter invites builders from all over the world to display a bike that meets a specific theme or idea. For example, I was invited in 2017 for the Old Iron, Young Blood exhibit which showcased motorcycles and the next generation. So all the builders were under aged 35 (roughly) and it was a show dedicated to showcasing where the industry is headed.
So the foundation for artwork was laid for me through custom motorcycles. And when I was apprenticing, Copper Mike really encouraged me to just follow any idea I had. If a crazy idea popped into my head in the middle of the night, he encouraged me just to make it – whether it be for a motorcycle or not. When I started my own shop in 2013, I really had a space to create and that’s when I started knocking out projects of my own: furniture, art pieces for the wall, forged items i.e. champagne sabers.
When I have an absolutely off the wall idea, and just the idea of it gets me excited, I know I have to make that. I may not make it right away, but I know I will make it. And every piece I make, while it may not be a motorcycle piece, is influenced by the skills I’ve honed to be able to build motorcycles: design, material knowledge, mechanical knowledge, welding, machining, fabricating, and forging to name a few.
So to put it more concisely: motorcycle building taught me the craft of how to take an idea in your head and turn it into reality, and have that part be beautiful but also functional. When I create a piece of art, whether it be for a motorcycle or not, I carry the same craftsmanship through into that piece.
Note: I’ve always struggled with the term/label “artist.” I’ll admit that I always felt that “art” meant painting, drawing, or sculpture. It was pointed and narrow. It meant form over function, to me. And I’ve always said, “there is artistry in what I do, but I’m not an artist.” And it wasn’t until recently, through a conversation with my brother Jamaal, that this idea changed for me. The resulting premise of our conversation was: a piece of art is something where you can stare at it for hours, constantly noticing new details, and evoking new emotions; and when you’re looking at it, it’s making you think, and that thought makes you walk away with some kind of feeling: feeling inspired, feeling angry, feeling you want to do something, etc. That is 100% my goal with everything I’ve ever created: from tables, to champagne sabers, to motorcycles. When I build a full custom motorcycle, it takes anywhere from 1,200-2,000 hours. Machining and fabricating damn near every piece – so that you can see that bike 200 times, and notice something new every time. And when you look at one of my bikes, I always want your resultant thought to be “I want to ride that thing.” A properly built custom motorcycle is craftsmanship that results in deliberate detail, which is created to inspire you to take an action. If that isn’t art, I don’t know what is.
What inspires your work, and how do you land on your subject matter? Do you have any particular routines that help motivate you?
I cannot exist in silence. I always need music or a TV in the background, or a podcast or something floating around in the ether. Most of my inspiration and ideas come while riding or driving and listening to music. Pre-COVID, I’d get a lot of ideas while listening to music and working out at the gym. Back when gyms were a thing that existed.
I’ll see a flash of a finished piece in my head, and then the journey begins to try to re-create that flash of an image. Something that’s important for me, personally, is that every piece I make serves as a snapshot in time. For example, each bike I’ve built reminds me of exactly the headspace I was in at the time – what music I listened to while building it, what skills I had at the time, if I was angry, if I was content, etc. Some pieces I make come out and when I look at it, it just has attitude. I know when I built that piece I was probably listening to Tool, A Perfect Circle, or Deftones. I had a satin white Harley that I re-built and I designed it for my wife and I to ride, and throughout the build I was listening to Van Morrison and Clapton and Eric Church – and that bike reflects that time for me – it’s a more peaceful, easy going design.
As far as subject matter, I always have a message in mind when I create something. It may come from one sentence I hear on a podcast, or a lyric in a song, or something I see taking place around me. But I don’t ever think it’s about the message I have in mind. It’s more about what you, as the viewer, see when you look at something I’ve built. I love seeing 5 people look at something I’ve made and say it makes them think or feel five different ways. That feeling that’s created inside of a viewer is what spurs conversation to take place; it creates a connection.
My goal as the creator of the work is not to convince you that what I think is right. Instead, it is to make you feel something, and that feeling causes you to think, and hopefully that thought causes you to act – not act in the way that you think I want you to act, but to act in a way that is inspired by what you’ve seen. Even if it is the simplest action: if you see something I’ve built, and think to yourself, “I think I can do that.” And you then learn a trade or a craft. You had a feeling, that feeling inspired the thought “I can do that;” the thought inspired you to take an action (e.g. learn to weld, learn to ride a motorcycle etc.) and through your action a connection was formed. We never spoke a word to each other – but we are now connected through the fact that I was inspired to create something, I created it; you saw it, you felt something, thought something, and did something and that connection now exists. That connection is more important to me than any subject matter or message that I may be intending to send.
How did you first connect with Jamaal, and how have you collaborated since?
I met Jamaal in my Freshman year at Babson College (2006). That feels like just a few years ago, but I realize now, after writing it, that was 14 years ago. Throughout college we worked on projects together, from assigned projects to elective projects. We were part of a crew that created a multicultural housing initiative on campus, that still exists to this day. We lived together. And throughout all of it, I was always blown away by and inspired by his ability to be true to who he was and what he wanted. He was always pushing to be involved in the arts and to bring more artwork, passion, and beauty to the Babson experience. Just witnessing him on his journey was motivation to me to follow my path. When I left Babson, I had a degree in business administration and a concentration in finance. But I knew in my soul that I wanted to throw on a welding helmet, start bending metal and build some wild bikes. Seeing Jamaal push relentlessly to stay true to his vision and his path was a true inspiration for me to follow my own path and journey.
We’ve always had conversations throughout and since college about our individual crafts, and our journey, but the pieces we’re working on for the Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Exhibit will be our first true collaborations between us. And I am extremely excited for what the product will be.
What projects are you working on right now, and what would you like to accomplish in the near (or distant) future?
As usual, I have 492,000 different projects kicking around. We just made a big pivot with our company, Fabbro Industries. We invented a patented frame design that we’ve been prototyping on motorcycles, and just recently decided to pivot and bring that same technology to bicycles and e-bikes. It will result in better ride quality and user experience for the rider. So that is a big project that is in the works. We are working to get our first full bicycle using our patented frame & suspension prototyped by the end of September 2020. As far as both near & distant future goals go, bringing this product to market and seeing it widely adapted is definitely top of the list.
In addition to pivoting our entire company strategy, I continue to do fabrication work on motorcycles, and some product development for other companies who need outside expertise when it comes to metal fabrication/manufacturing.
And, of course, I have the pieces that I’m creating for the Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Exhibit – a really intricate table entitled Cave of the Seer to complement and serve as a base for the Seer painting that Jamaal and Melissa created, with an accompanying poem from Mary Pinard.
Jamaal and I have our collaboration piece which will be absolutely insane – where I essentially created a canvas for him to paint on. I could describe it, but words won’t adequately capture the detail and weight of this creation.
And then the big piece I’m working on now is called The Constructor’s Challenge and it’s something I’ve wanted to create for a while – it’s a life-sized (5’ x 8’) slider puzzle of a motorcycle I built, named the Type 57x. This motorcycle was the first full prototype of our patented integrated suspension frame, displayed at Michael Lichter’s Motorcycles as Art: Old Iron, Young Blood exhibit in 2017. So, the bike holds a special place in my soul. The goal of the puzzle is to make the viewer feel the experience of creating a motorcycle. It will be 11 pieces that cannot be taken out but need to be slid around inside of a frame to get them to line up and create the resultant picture. I want viewers to really feel the frustration of knowing “I know this piece needs to go there, but how to I get it there?” It is a perfect metaphor for motorcycle building, and really creating anything in any medium. You know all the pieces that must go into it, but the frustration and excitement along the way is what makes the journey so formative. So, I wanted to create something interactive to make viewers feel a snippet of that experience – and hopefully be inspired to create something of their own.
Any art, book, movie, recipe, media, etc. recommendations?
Art: of course, the work of Sir Jay Evs, aka Mr. Jamaal, aka Jamaal Eversley; also check out some of the artwork my brother Copper Mike Cole creates; if you enjoy motorcycles, the photography of Michael Lichter is incredible. Also, I own none of his work, but I can stare at the photography of Peter Lik for hours – it’s one of my favorite things.
Books: I generally read technical books/articles – it’s hard for anything else to hold my attention. But my wife recently scored me a 2nd edition of the Enzo Ferrari Memoirs, and it was amazing to read. I also just started Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein – I’m only about 60 pages in, but it is fascinating.
Movies. TV, etc: There’s so much fresh content right now, it is insane. That being said, the number of times I re-watch Parks and Rec, The Office, and Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix is borderline shameful. Also, if we’re being honest, I’ve been binge watching Selling Sunset on Netflix. No shame in my game.
Also, for podcasts that make you laugh out loud, you need to listen to Your Mom’s House with Tom Segura and Christina P. It will make your day better.
Recipes: Oh baby! I’ve perfected my pulled pork tacos and I’ve got homemade sticky buns dialed in. Email or DM me and I’ll hit you with the recipes. It will change your life, and your cholesterol. While so much of this COVID world has been anxiety producing, detrimental, and tragic, I’ve also spent more time with immediate family in the last 6 months than I have in the last 2 years. I’ve had some of the deepest and most emotional phone conversations and Zoom calls with friends that I’ve ever had in my 32 years of life. And it’s given me a mandatory opportunity to take a step back and really evaluate what is important in life and what kind of legacy I want to leave because it could all be over tomorrow. My hope is that the body of work I leave will speak to the person I am, and the values I hold. That is what I hope comes through in these pieces on display at the Beacon Gallery.