Meet The Artist: The Incomparable Dan Tanenbaum a.k.a. @watchpartsmotorcycles
Operating under the alias “Watch Parts Motorcycles,” the Toronto-based creator reimagines pop culture icons.
If you follow watch-related content on Instagram, you are probably already aware of Dan Tanenbaum’s (@watchpartsmotorcycles) amazing sculptures. That is because, for over a decade, Tanenbaum has been encrusting everything from vinyl toys to Air Jordan shoes in vintage watch parts. His work is instantly recognizable and highly sought after – rapper Chief Keef and DJ Steve Aoki are among many satisfied collectors of his pieces.
But what you may not know is: Tanenbaum’s origin story is just as beautiful. We met up with the artist in Toronto to talk about his inspiration, craft, and process.
Gears Are Turning
Growing up in Toronto, many factors pointed Tanenbaum toward a career in the arts. Not only are his parents, Carole and Howard Tanenbaum, distinguished collectors of 19th-century photography, African art, and vintage costume jewelry, but his grandfather, Max Granick, was also a well-respected collector. Sometimes you can even catch a glimpse of his amazing sculptures on Dan Tanenbaum’s Instagram feed.
Full Disclosure: When I started out in journalism, I was frequently sent to borrow jewels from his mother’s collection for photoshoots. In fact, during our interview, Dan told me, “Collecting timepieces comes from my mom. She has a black belt in collecting, and it’s a Gucci.”
Having developed a keen aesthetic eye while visiting antique markets with his family, Tanenbaum first became an art director and then a tech entrepreneur. However, he always remained a collector with an affinity for watches.
When we met with Tanenbaum at a coffee shop in his Forest Hill neighborhood, he brought his favorite timepieces – a Rolex Submariner Reference 6538 (Ihis personal favorite) and an Urwerk reference 103.09. While both are outstanding examples of horology, they have even better stories. The Rolex, in particular, had long been a grail for Tanenbaum. When he and his wife were expecting a son, he wanted to mark the occasion with “the most iconic watch.” The goal was to be able to pass it on to his son when he turned 21.
Tanenbaum was able to track down an example of the infamous James Bond “Dr. No” watch located in nearby London, Ontario. The only issue: it was not for sale; the owner was holding it as an investment. Eventually, Tanenbaum was able to persuade the owner to part with the timepiece. “He had no emotional attachment to it,” Tanenbaum told me. “But he wrote the most beautiful note for my son. That’s part of the provenance now.”
So, when did the collector become collectible himself?
As a vintage watch collector, Tanenbaum had built up a network of enthusiasts and dealers. And one day, while visiting one of his connections, he noticed a bucket of discarded vintage watch parts. “I asked if I could have them,” recalled Tanenbaum. “But I didn’t know what I was going to do with them.”
“This opened up my artwork to a whole new world of collectors,” Tanenbaum said, adding that “people who collect things collect more than one thing.” Not only did he find fans in watch enthusiasts, but also motorcycle aficionados and sneakerheads. He likes to work with objects with a recognizable silhouette such as Stormtroopers and his “Time Bomb” series – hand grenades made from counterfeit watch parts.
Tanenbaum doesn’t offer an artist statement (“I think there’s a comment, but I don’t know what it is.”), instead, leaving it up to the buyer to attach meaning to each object (“Everybody has their own story.”). For me, the act of overlaying beautifully crafted but discarded watch parts over mass-produced but highly coveted objects feels like a comment on the nature of collecting in the first place.
Putting Things Together
That brings us back to the community of collecting and creating. When Tanenbaum began posting his sculptures on Facebook, followers would often weigh in with notes. “They’d comment that the V8 engine was on the wrong side,” he remembered. “I love the interaction with people.” Then, when he started his Instagram account, he was also able to tap into the interests of his followers.
Tanenbaum’s training as an art director is apparent in his Instagram stories. He also credits his wife’s skills as a photographer for making his pieces come to life online. But photos can’t fully capture these intriguing works.
Tanenbaum has brought along a Time Bomb and an encrusted basketball shoe for our viewing pleasure. The amount of detail is insane with each tiny widget meticulously set. There doesn’t seem to be a single space where the cogs and plates are not completely enmeshed. At the same time, these pieces are not smothered clumsily in watch parts. Rather each bit enhances the object.
Due to the nature of his process, every piece is one-of-a-kind. But his favorites are customized specially for each collector.
At the same time, Tanenbaum’s works are also very personal. His imagination and ingenuity are as much a part of these sculptures as the watch components because the intricate work of encrusting each piece is extremely time-consuming. So, as he still has a full-time day job, Tanenbaum works alone after his kids have gone to bed, sitting at a small antique workbench in his furnace room. But he finds the work meditative: “Some people play golf. Some people do yoga. These projects are my golf and my yoga.”