How Ashes Collected on a Bike Trip to Volcanoes Helped Disadvantaged Kids

By Adam Marsal

From ashes to art, from art to money. This story illustrates how unique ideas connected people from different parts of the world and, in the end, helped in a good way. Find out what happened when a sportsman teamed up with an artist.

In the beginning, there was an idea. Jan Dvořák from the Czech-based agency Sport in Art learned about the plans of biker Richard ’Gaspi’ Gasperotti to travel to Guatemala and ride down some of the local volcanoes. Shortly after, Jan introduced Gaspi to Werner Bronkhorst, a young South African artist living in Australia, and let them do the rest.

In love with volcanoes

Cycling in a volcano
Looking for somewhere to go after descending Etna and Stromboli by bike, pro MTB rider Richard ‘Gaspi’ Gasperotti discovered Guatemala, a land of active volcanoes.

The truth is that Gaspi fell in love with volcanoes many years ago. After the initial conquest of Etna and Stromboli in Sicily, which Gaspi climbed and descended on his MTB, he kept looking for more. His desire made him discover Guatemala, a land of volcanoes with many still active. You can read that part of the story here.

On all three volcanic sites – Pacaya, Acatenango, and Fuego – Gaspi collected volcanic ash and small stones. According to the arrangement made before the trip, Gaspi sent the samples to Werner immediately after he returned home.

Globally recognised after posting on TikTok

Werner Bronkhorst often jokes that his overnight success took him eight years to achieve. His social media followings skyrocketed after he created an artwork of a skier on a uniquely textured background and posted it to TikTok, which made the whole collection go viral.

Werner’s creative process consists of two main steps: producing an abstract background featuring wild colours and coarse textures and then adding miniature painted figures, often depicting sportsmen from different fields. Since he usually makes his own canvases and tools, the process takes a long time. Each tiny figure alone requires up to two hours of highly focused painting with minuscule brushes.

Werner’s relationship with cycling goes back to childhood. He became an avid cyclist at the age of 13 after he spent his entire birthday allowance on a mountain bike. He has never been an athlete but he cycled to school every day, gaining strength and endurance. His uncle was surprised when Werner left him behind by an hour in a local bike race. The flashbacks of riding over rocky hills, muddy valleys and bushy trails are still lively in Werner’s memories, reminding him of how he had fallen in love with cycling.

From the ashes

Volcanic ash art
Each tiny figure alone requires up to two hours of highly focused painting with minuscule brushes.

He composed Gaspi’s painting of three diagonal sections that resemble volcanoes overlapping one another. Werner mixed the ash from all three volcanoes with a thick layer of background colour, creating a deep contrast to the tiny figures of Gaspi riding down the slopes on his bike in three different poses.

”I’m used to working with some random materials but this was pretty gnarly. Volcanic ash is surprisingly lightweight due to all the air bubbles trapped in the molten rock. As you can imagine, it is very sharp and textured, which was challenging to cycle down as well as to paint on,” Werner stated on Instagram.

Supporting kids in need

The resulting artwork named ‘From the Ashes’ sized 100 x 100 cm was auctioned by the Mondraker Bike Company for nearly 10,000 USD to an unknown collector from Singapore. The proceeds from the sale of such an extraordinary fusion of sport and art were donated to the children’s charity programme “Survive & Thrive” in Guatemala. And since Gaspi comes from Europe, the ashes from America, Werner from Africa and the painting was created in Australia and sold to Asia, the original idea literally tied together five continents. Not a bad achievement, guys!