King of the road

Paintings of semi trailers crowd a bike-oriented gallery.

Katrina Wilber

Bicycles and semi-trucks are modes of transportation and both have wheels, even though the semi has a good 16-wheel advantage. The similarities seem to end there, unless you’re the One on One Bicycle Studio in Minneapolis’ warehouse district. In the gallery’s newest exhibition a series of acrylic paintings by Iowa native Jim Zellinger covers an entire range of emotions regarding the humble semi-truck.

Ten to 15 of Zellinger’s paintings are included in this exhibit, no doubt because the gallery is only about the size of two or three dorm rooms. That’s not a bad thing; the close quarters add an intimacy that’s often lost in bigger galleries. The number of paintings allows for a close inspection of each instead of a quick glance, and these works need to be scrutinized to be fully appreciated.

One on One Bicycle Studio is aiming to be a triple-threat in the worlds of bicycles, art galleries and coffee houses. When the space isn’t showing work by national and international artists, the owners get a chance to show off their own art collections, and a coffee house will open soon. Music programming is also in the works.

Zellinger’s paintings seem like photographs from a distance, except for the colors: It would be hard to snap a photo of a trailer on a maroon street underneath a neon-green sky. The brilliantly colored backgrounds immediately capture the eye, but the intricate details are what keep the viewer’s attention. Some trailers float in a pool of color while others are firmly grounded.

One of the first paintings is of an Upper Lakes Food truck from Cloquet, Minn. It’s just the trailer, the road and the sky; not even the cab is there. There’s a slight dignity in the loneliness of the painting because there’s nothing in front of it and nothing behind it.

The square canvases range widely in size from some just big enough to hold a single trailer to others so large they can include an entire caravan. The rough backgrounds complement the details of the trailers. There’s an intentional casualness to them, and paint streaks and dribbles are not uncommon in the exhibit.

Another painting has a cab sketched in, almost as an afterthought. The trailer heads toward a bridge that’s off in the distance, but how it’ll get there nobody knows. It’s a reincarnated trailer though, because the word “CAROLINA” is roughly, almost hurriedly painted over. The trailer’s dull gray color doesn’t give into the majesty of the background, so the result is an artistic tug-of-war between the bright background and the modest subject.

Every aspect of semi trailers is reproduced, from the “How’s My Driving?” sign on the back and the red-and-white safety stripes along the sides, to the number of lights and the barely-there serial number. There are patterned mud flaps, and where the trailers are painted at an angle even the underbellies are exactly right.

A painting of a “Mobile Chapel” puts a white trailer against a blue background, and the blue doubles as the sky and the ground. The free-standing trailer has a little wooden staircase set up next to it, a fluttering flag on the top and a sidewalk advertising easel out front. There’s a painting of a large pair of hands cradling a tiny semi on the back of the trailer, and the whole painting shows a new and interesting use for an old trailer.

“Air-ride Equipped” showcases a unique concept in an unusual setting. Zellinger’s mix of the ubiquitous and the sublime gives us a wonderful new view of the workaday world of transportation.