Team Snoop-Around parked outside Mótorsmiðjan for an interview, the second home of artist Siggi Palli, who greeted us with great respect. The atmosphere inside was nice and cosy, and we sat down in the Café area for a chat, we wanted to know a thing or two about Siggi Palli´s lifestyle, artistry and views on the Icelandic motorcycle culture.
I wonder, have you always been artsy?
I have been drawing since I was a little kid; it was my medium when I expressed myself. I mediated both joy and anger through art, once when my father was strict with me I drew a pretty libellous picture and gave him. He still owns the picture. So, when I needed to get something out of my system I drew it away.
When I was older I was a student at the Icelandic Academy of the arts, but I didn’t connect with the format of creating art daily from 8-4, and to hand in projects on deadlines and so forth. It killed my drive for some reason. We learned Art History, where we studied paintings made by the old masters, and I was sure that I would never paint like that. The comparison didn’t make sense to me at the time.
I didn’t mange to finish school, so me and my friend decided to get a job on a ship, that sailed us to Greece, where we stayed for some time for we wanted to experience something new and adventurous. When I came back I didn’t touch a pencil or a brush for years though.
“a documentary, Flúreyjar, about a small group of tattoo artists from Iceland”
So you have been working with film, I hear as well?
Yes, I had been doing that for years. I have for example been directing and producing music videos and various things. I was a gripper for years as well. I produced a documentary, Flúreyjar, about a small group of tattoo artists from Iceland, Fjölnir and Jón Páll, and a couple of other guys that went biking in Faeroe Islands. I have always been a big fan of the Islands, and Fjölnir even made me a tattoo as a thank you gift with the logo of the film after all this.
But yes, I have been directing and producing music videos with various artist from Iceland and Scandinavia; Dr. Spock, Eivör, Högni, Boys in a band and Rönbeck for example.
So, when did you manage to get your mojo back?
Ten years ago, I started to see images again in my mind and got many ideas that I wanted to act on. I wanted to explore formatic elements and this need to paint gushed out so I started to paint a lot. When I had painted 20-25 large paintings, they started to get in our way at home so I figured that I had to exhibit then. In my exhibition 8 of 10 of my works were sold. So that gave me a boost on expressing myself artistically again. I painted when I got inspired, sometimes continuously for hours and hours. That’s the way I work, always.
I am currently also a drummer in a band called Þrusk. We are maybe not that known, but I can tell you that we were the first band to play on a snow stage up in Bláfjöll (Blue Mountains) as a warm up for the band Dr. Spock in the middle of the winter.
I have also been very much in touch with matters of the spirit. I hired my dad once to translate a book about Zen, called Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, a book about quality of life and things that matter the most at the end of the day. In Icelandic we would say that I was an fjöllistamaður – which means that I am somewhat a multi artist. I am not only focusing on one art form and that’s they way I am.
When did you start tattoo artistry?
I am a member of a motorcycle club, and they were always looking for someone that was skilled and artistic with a needle. So they had been encouraging me for a long time to do it, I had been a fan of this art form for years and had many tattoos myself. My wife bought me a start up equipment for tattooing, and they boys in my club were excited enough to let me practise, so I did just that and on human skin as well so that was a huge advantage for me.
My brother was running this place Mótorsmiðjan, and was looking for a tattoo artist, so I started out here. I try to focus on the tattooing and not on the drawing, at the moment, Siggi my coworker is drawing a lot and he is very talented and fast. Then as time passed by, me and Haddi who is a leather designer (Haddi Dreki) decided to open this up as a social club for bikers, and all those interested in the culture and the rock and roll lifestyle. Our organization is called the Motorheads, and we have around 130 active members. All members are welcome to spend time here, and those who want to tattoo each other can go ahead to do so.
And over there, you can see that we have various instruments here in front of our Café. There are many members of the club that are musicians, so they are free to play, grabbing whatever instruments they want and jam a little here whenever they want. They can drink coffee, form bands, or just play live music. This is an open stage, always.
But what can you tell me about the hair saloon corner that I see over there?
Smutty Smiff is one of the most kown rockabilly heroes in the world today. He has played in many well-known bands with many of the most famous musicians in rock history. He is running a small hair salon here, in this rockabilly style, and we are the only store here in Iceland that offer those hair products, brilliantine hair wax for hairstyling.
So what is this business here in Mótorsmiðjan about, in general?
We are mainly running this to support our club, so we can get by sustainably. But we also give money to charity, for example we gave 100.000. – ISK the other day to the Children’s Hospital, Hringurinn. I really admire what they are doing there, my son got sick once so I have personal experience. We chose this organization because we know that their operation is run by heart and honesty. But yes, in general this is a social community for us bikers, mainly men. Women are always welcome though of course.
“You don’t want to break in here, we will find you
before the police does”
So what groups belong to Mótorsmiðjan?
I am in a club called Hrafnar for example and Haddi is in a club called Þeyr. But that has in itself nothing to do with Mótorsmiðjan, it is for everybody bikers and non-bikers. Even though Mótorsmiðjan is situated in a neighborhood where there a lot of people living, they residents seem to like it because they think its good to have a motorcycle club in their backyard so thief’s would be less likely to invade the area. We also have a sticker in our window that reads: “You don’t want to break in here, we will find you before the police does”.
We have a small flea market here with used bikers outfits. Sometimes people are kind to give us used things that we sell. All the profits go to the organization for the basic things we need to pay for, rent, electricity the Internet and phone bills. If we have profited more than takes to run this place on daily basis, we give the profits away to charity. So I could proudly say this is an way, the Icelandic Red Cross Motorcycle club, for this reasons.
What can you tell me lastly about the negative image that is often portrayed of the motorcycle culture in the media?
I can understand this negative portrait for sure, because if there is a story in the news on motorcycles, it’s mostly a story about a car chase, crimes or some bad accident someone had. Also in films, if there is a motorcycle club, it contains flocks of criminals doing this and that so its not very positive, the image is in my opinion very crooked in media culture.
“95% of bikers here in Iceland are indeed boy scouts”
People that know this culture know that 95% of bikers here in Iceland are indeed boy scouts. I am not kidding; they are the nicest people that I know. There are guys on Jeeps that are criminals too; you can find them in whatever group in the society. Imagine a criminal that drives a Benz for example, he is hopefully not giving all Benz owners in Iceland a bad name? Right? Well that’s what I think anyways.
We would like to thank you so much, Siggi Palli, for this great interview and yeah, we should encourage everybody to come here to Mótorsmiðjan?
Yes of course. Everybody is welcome, even though there is mainly testosterone in the air. The members of the Harley Davidson club have regular meetings here as our motorcycle clubs Þeyr and Hrafnar. We have actors, musicians, hippies and bums; you just name it the different characters that pop by to see us. We have all the range here in Mótorsmiðjan, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
We leave with longings for café hangouts, tattoos, paintings made by Siggi Palli and a curiosity to know more about the society that Mótorsmiðjan is.
Interview: Ása Baldursdóttir
Photographs: Nanna Dís
Photographs of tattoos: Siggi Palli