Joe Morris finds beauty in the unconventional

"It’s about throwing out the process and the rules each time and creating art on my terms."

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

Joe Morris finds beauty in the unconventional

Written by: Jacqueline Fisch
May 9, 2018


For Joe Morris, art is about telling stories. He believes that a piece of art, whether a canvas on your mantle, a hot rod or classic motorcycle, should tell a story. Steps off of Main Street in the Crown Point Square, you’ll find Morris’s art gallery and shop—JMOTO Speedshop—converted from the town’s 1927 original service station.  

As I walked in, noticing the smell of paint with a hint of motor oil, Morris greeted me as he turned down the volume on the documentary playing on the big screen about the late Pantera guitar player, Dimebag Darrell.  

“Art has always played a role in my life,” Morris says. Back in the second grade, you’d find him in class drawing pictures from his textbooks and it was so good his classmates would accuse him of tracing.  

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

For Joe Morris, art is about telling stories. He believes that a piece of art, whether a canvas on your mantle, a hot rod or classic motorcycle, should tell a story. Steps off of Main Street in the Crown Point Square, you’ll find Morris’s art gallery and shop—JMOTO Speedshop—converted from the town’s 1927 original service station.  

As I walked in, noticing the smell of paint with a hint of motor oil, Morris greeted me as he turned down the volume on the documentary playing on the big screen about the late Pantera guitar player, Dimebag Darrell.  

“Art has always played a role in my life,” Morris says. Back in the second grade, you’d find him in class drawing pictures from his textbooks and it was so good his classmates would accuse him of tracing.  

Later, during his advertising career, he honed his signature gritty Americana style late into the evenings and on weekends. He started doing exhibits and solo shows at places such as Mars Gallery, Catch 35, and unconventional places like the Double Door, where he rode one of his custom bikes right into the bar. Some of his notable artworks include the fighter series for UFC, Chicago Blackhawks, Kellogg’s 100th anniversary painting, the Who, Buddy Guy, Eric Church, Team Penske, Bruce Lee Enterprises, and Korn. 

Having raced motorcycles since his 20s, Morris had been around them for years, and later discovered that boring factory-painted motorcycles were begging to bear some original gritty art. “I saw those bikes as a blank canvas,” he says, recalling when he first started roughing up the “perfect” airbrush job.  

“People were always looking at my art and telling me it should be my full-time job—and finally, it is,” he says. In 2016, Morris stepped away from a 15-plus year career as a creative director in the advertising world. He could finally take his art to new levels and focus on making art his job instead of just what he did in the cracks of his life.  

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

His wife found the Crown Point building, and when she realized the spacious vintage appeal was perfect, she called him right away. “Joe, your art will look awesome in here,” she had told him. “Also, we’re running out of space in our garage.” Just two months later he signed the lease and started filling the shop. He also brought in Mike Hoj, a notable and experienced builder and fabrication artist he met at a bike show, to work on the bikes. 

To Morris, every piece of work is a new adventure. “It’s about throwing out the process and the rules each time and creating art on my terms,” he says. Morris and Hoj just came away from winning the Chicago World of Wheels for the custom Johnny Cash tribute Low Rider softail bike they built on commission for a Nashville collector.  

Today, the JMOTO Speedshop walls are filled from floor to ceiling, and the space functions as a studio, custom motorcycle shop and fine art gallery. It also serves as a community gathering space, especially on Thursday cruise nights in the summer months, where you’ll find the garage doors open and a crowd of people enjoying the visual experience. “People tell me it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen,” Joe says. “They just want to hang out, and that’s cool with us because we love that our shop is sparking creativity and inspiring conversations.”

Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf
Photo Credit: Brad M. Wolf

JMOTO Speedshop isn’t just about hot rods and bikers either; he wants to get that first-time art buyer to think beyond the mainstream options. “When you’re surrounded by original art, your mind is more open and freethinking, your house is more inviting and opens up conversation,” Morris says.  

Morris’s canvas work ranges from popular media to sports art for kids. He also uses his mixed media techniques on helmets, goalie masks and guitars. When asked where he draws inspiration for his undeniably cool style, he says, “Rauschenberg, Pollock, people’s stories, music, Japanese custom Harley-Davidsons, rust, and Americana.”