Inside Revolution: Cars on Canvas
What do a radio control car, a pallet knife, an iPad, and a paint brush have in common? The answer is they are all items that have been used by some of the UK’s most intriguing and innovative motorsport artists to create their masterpieces of the track.
The world of motorsport artistry is well established and extremely varied. It ranges from classically styled pieces by long-time legends of the brush such as Michael Turner and Andrew Kitson, to crisp modern montages and poster-style Pop Art. The sharing opportunities offered by social media offer anyone with talent the chance to be noticed and, with a bit of hard graft and a portion of luck, to even make a living from doing it.
The artiste’s work offers those who compete, spectate or work behind the scenes the opportunity to capture a memorable moment that perhaps was otherwise not possible. And while the different styles are a matter of personal taste, in many cases it might be more affordable than you think to commemorate that victory with a unique piece of unique wall art.
There are numerous creative experts around the UK turning their hand to the trade. Some work professionally on commissions or limited-edition prints, others simply paint for pleasure, with the hope of being recognised. These four artists are some of the most prominent in the field, each with a unique story or approach, and I wanted to find out more about this fascinating world.
David Johnson uses a splatter-style technique to create modern stylised art that has drawn the attention of some of Britain’s top F1 stars.
Martin Tomlinson uses a classic style to define moments of motorsport history from a wide range of disciplines, from classic F1 to modern sports and GT cars.
David Kelsall creates photo-real art using an iPad and an apple pencil. He specialises in Rallying and has
Ian Cook has created two unique styles, using radio control cars and rubber tyres to create dynamic pieces of art, and also developing continuous line caricature style drawings. www.popbangcolour.com
Q: What came first, motorsport or art?
David Kelsall: “I have always been into art, and I used to paint with oils and acrylics. I would do a couple of paintings each year for friends, then somebody showed me a painting they had done on an iPad. I liked that idea, so I got one, but I didn’t do anything with it until I was furloughed in the first coronavirus lockdown.
“I got bored of watching daytime television, so I decided to try it out and did a picture of Hannu Mikkola on the 1978 RAC Rally. I posted it on Facebook and it went mad! Just a couple of hours later I got a call from the chap who owned the car asking if I was doing any prints. I hadn’t thought about it, but I said ‘actually, I was going to do a limited edition of 75’ and he said ‘well, can I order the first 10?’!”
Martin Tomlinson: “I had racing in my blood from the word go – I think I was born with a spark plug in my ear or somewhere! My grandfather used to race bikes at Brooklands before the war and he and my dad took me to Crystal Palace when I was three. I sat on my dad’s shoulders, and I loved it when the cars came burbling past on the warm-up lap, but when the race started the noise level went up and I screamed the place down, so they took me home!
“I got into art when I was a bit older and ended up exhibiting work as a ‘Sunday artist’ at Silverstone, Le Mans, Goodwood and so on for about 30 years. I was running a graphic design studio and eventually it became less and less design and more web-based, so nine years ago I decided to paint professionally and do nothing else.”
David Johnson: “Motorsport has always been at the heart of it. I grew up watching it on TV and used to build models and collect bits of car. I became design and technology teacher and would go to Silverstone and build cars for the students to race around. At the same time, I was developing my art skills. I’ve always had a fascination with the work of Michael Turner, so I took a sketch to one of his exhibits and he gave me praise and comments.”
Ian Cook: “I grew up in the Midlands with the car industry all around me. My uncle worked for what was then Rover Group and I originally wanted to go into car design but, after doing some work experience, I decided it wasn’t for me. There was no social media or creative content like we have now, so because I was good at art, I put all my effort into that.
“I got A-stars in Art, Textiles and Graphics then did a B-Tech in Illustration and a Fine Art degree at Winchester School of Art. As I was close to London, I went to the galleries and was inspired by the likes of Damian Hurst and Tracey Emin; shows that really challenged people’s perception of art. Then, as I’ve always been a car fan, I started to bring cars into my art.”I started by customizing little Matchbox toys, doing art cars and in my third year I cut up all my toy cars – Buragos, Scalextrics, the lot – and put them into a sculpture called Pop Bang Colour (meaning a friendly explosion of colour) which had motors and lights and was really colourful.
“I had put so much into my degree I was maxed out, empty, so I did bar work for a couple of years, ran a nightclub, and that helped my people skills. Then I started photographing the DJs behind the decks, did some corporate commissions and suddenly realised I had a skill people were happy to pay for.
“After that, I became a full-time teacher for a while and that helped me again with the people skills, because when you’ve got 30 students for three hours, you’ve got to have a presence, you’ve got to show you are in control of the room. When the rooms were not full of students, I used them to experiment with my art.
“In 2007 my then girlfriend bought me a Lightning McQueen radio control car for Christmas. She said ‘don’t take it down to your studio and get paint on it’ – so that gave me the idea to start painting with radio control cars! I worked out if you put paint onto canvas or paper, the car can run through it, and you can control the direction it goes. That’s where it all started.”
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