one of the iniquities of attending art college is the overwhelming need for subject matter with which to decorate sheets of paper or canvas. maybe even a whitewashed piece of hardboard. yes indeed, still-life class was never too hard in this respect, nor indeed life-drawing; the former offered drawer upon drawer of incongruous items with which to compose suitable subject matter, while life-drawing was, well, life-drawing. the fly in the ointment was always composition.
the idea here was to base a composition, in whichever media took your fancy (though oddly, only oil paintings were deemed worthy of submission for the end of year assessment) on subjects of our own choosing. the idea was that we spend our weekend hours sketching ideas to provide fodder for class in the following or subsequent weeks. except, apart from the studious few, weekends were for playing drums, hanging out in music or record stores and generally doing almost everything other than sketch ideas for paintings.
that, rather tautologically, meant a dearth of ideas when it became time to put brush to canvas. you would not have been proud. when i recall several of the paintings freely produced over the course of the academic year, i become flush with embarrassment. there's always the thought that i may not have been cut out to be a painter, but if i'm totally honest, it was far more a case of lack of application than any specific lack of artistic ability. oh how i wish i'd been into cycling as a student.
but i wasn't.
however, situated but a few metres from the art college was the school of architecture, a building in which we had frequent occasion to attend lectures from visiting lecturers (their lecture theatre was larger than that in the art college). if ever we needed succour and encouragement for our own drawing abilities, a brief visit to the school of architecture was it. the saying at the time was that 'architects couldn't draw curtains', something amply demonstrated by their considerable use of letraset and less than pin sharp penmanship.
so it now gives me no pleasure whatsoever to find that nigel peake, who trained as an architect in edinburgh and is in receipt of a silver medal commendation from the royal institute of british architects, displays such marvellous draughtsmanship. applied to one of cycling's favourite subjects (ruddy great hills), his perceptions and graphic ability offer not only a perspicacity of form rarely seen applied to this particular subject matter, but sufficient eccentricity (if i may be so bold) to give considerable food for thought.
his illustrations will not find favour with everyone. i daresay the average -and not so average - cyclist would expect an illustration entitled passo gavia to resemble the impressive hugeness of the italian mountain pass. an arrangement of squares featuring blue diagonal lines bisected by a single white line is not what might be described as photo realism. however, peake's intention is hardly to pay homage to studiously recreated reality. just as riding the ventoux, koppenberg, alpe d'huez or the angliru present a challenge for even the professionals, nigel peake offers just as many visual challenges throughout his 20 beautiful images.
for the grounding, the realism, the descriptive necessities and the plain old facts and figures, peake's artworks have been superbly matched with words by condor cycles' claire beaumont. she is decribed in the brief bio on the inside back cover as a 'lead creative' a deserved title that she demonstrates on the back of each pull-out print.
"The cameras stayed on Tonkov as he entered the cruel Cuena les cabres section, where the road becomes a brutal, leg wobbling 23.5%. But then the TV images flicked away from Tonkov and commentators around the world suddenly started shouting in excitement."
the text extends to providing location, length, height, altitude, along with both average and maximum gradient. once i'd sated my delight at the illustrations, there truly is enough quality reading to make this effectively two books in one. the paragraphs are even craftily arranged to represent an ascent. though each image can be removed to fit in an 11" x 14" frame, i doubt i'd even think of doing so unless i had not only twenty frames, but twenty empty spaces on the sitting room wall. or at debbie's.
i find a great deal to admire in this collection of illustrations, but i'm aware that they'll not be to everyone's taste, in which case, it might be an idea to take a look inside before you buy. but if you do, they'll offer a whole new perspective on the world of cycling's iconic climbs and mountains. it's of great testament to laurence king publishing that they saw fit to offer these to a potentially adoring pelotonese.
friday 17 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................