several of children that mrs washingmachinepost looks after on a daily basis are at the stage of their life careers where sheets of paper, felt-tip pens, crayons and pencils are front and centre for many of the days' enjoyable activities. there have been pictures of boats and helicopters, dinosaurs are a confirmed favourite because it's fun to make the associated roars, cars and planes and many another item that is seen as fair game for the purposes of rudimentary illustration. in all the time ascribed to such graphic activity, never once to my knowledge, has any child attempted to draw a bicycle.
as one with a modest degree of artistic ability, a personal attribute that is known to one or two of the children, i am regularly besieged by cries of 'draw me something brian'. you won't be in the least surprised to learn that most of my initial attempts on paper or megasketcher are geared firmly towards that of the velocipede. yet, i need only commence drawing two circles and one of them already has their tiny paw on the lever that clears the drawing from the grey screen.
if kids are generally so enthralled with bicycles, why are they so averse to drawing them?
my current theory, based purely on partial observation, is that they're simply too hard to render with any coherent degree of skill. let's face it, lacing 32 spokes three-cross into a rim is a hard enough technical exercise for the uninitiated adult; you can imagine how much more difficult it might be for the under fives to draw one. and can anyone of that age be expected to know on which side of the frame the chainset appears? plus, racing cars, helicopters and dinosaurs are so much more exciting at that age.
however, there is no doubt that, for the practised artist, drawing a verisimilitude of a bicycle is something of a towering achievement. despite my proffered artistic skill (such as it is), i very much doubt i could apply it to the sight of a speeding racer or, in fact, a stationary bicycle. like many an intriguing object, it all looks a lot simpler than reality will demonstrate, and i have the greatest of admiration for those who maintain the bicycle as the principal object of their artistic endeavours.
such as david atkinson, for example.
currently a resident of kitchener in ontario's waterloo region, about 100km west of toronto in canada, david's palmares consists of some quite excellent paintings of riders, jerseys, caps and cycling related ephemera that would suitably enhance any wall within viewing distance of the archetypal cycling obsessive. like me for instance. such is the integrity of his illustrations, that he must surely have had an artistic training that contributed to such technical prowess? so is he college trained, or just simply darned good at it?
"I've designed and drawn throughout my life. I didn't study art in college but I did have a very inspiring art teacher in high school. I've learned and continue to learn the necessary skills along the way."
but if i might return briefly to my original point, that, since bicycles augmented with speeding riders, are hardly the simplest of objects to accurately or even impressionistically depict, why eschew the joys of landscape, portrait or still life in favour of the bicycle? even artists have to think carefully about the commercial aspect of their careers, compromising between artistic speciality and the ready, willing and able market to which the results might be sold. so why, for david atkinson, is it all about the bicycle?
"Hmmm... I imagine the magical childhood experience of learning to ride a bike and the adventure which consequently unfolds of seeing life from a bicycle must have something to do with my current artistic fascination. As I grew up, the simple thrill of bicycle riding was enhanced by my discovery of bicycle racing. My older brother had saved up his dollars and purchased a custom built Bertrand racing bike. He also conjured up a small portable television and negotiated permission (we grew up in a household with no television) for us to watch the Race Across America and ABC's coverage of the Tour De France. In this newfound world of television images and high tech racing machinery the thing that really caught my artist's eye was my brother's replica La Vie Claire jersey. I was a big fan of the bold designs of Piet Mondrian. So began my continuing fascination with the designs and visual appeal of bicycle riding and racing.
"I remained a spectator more or less until much later on (1999) when I started riding for fitness, pleasure, adventure and escape. My interest grew to a sort of fanaticism over a decade of "training" and eventually I found myself racing for one season (2009) in the Ontario Cup series. I now have many thousands of kilometres of road riding experience which feeds into the feel of my bicycle paintings and has created a habit of looking regularly at the world of bicycles."
apple computer was, at one time, infamous for its not invented here stance. if the chaps at 1 infinite loop had not brought the item to the table, they weren't interested in adding it as a string to their bow. it is a dalliance that affects many walks of personal and commercial life, and one that easily assumes a disproportionate affectation for the practising artist. does one wish to be at the behest of others, compromising one's artistic stance in the service of the filthy lucre, so to speak? however, economic reality down the centuries has meant that even the great masters were often beholden to their patrons, stylising their subject matter to suit the vanity of their patrons. does david prefer to live by the fruits of his own engendered labour, or do commissions feature large in the portfolio of hearts and champions?
"I love to work on commissions. I have lots of experience in graphic design and enjoy the challenge of using my hand/eye skills to incorporate someone else's concepts and visions into a strong visual reality."
cynics that we undoubtedly were when learning our trade at art college, that it wasn't too long before one or two of us sussed that appending the words 'mixed media to the little card accompanying any work for exhibition, garnered it a faux artistic importance that it doubtless was undeserving of. though it remains a truism that many works are indeed conducted in mixed media, does atkinson have any preferences as to that which constitutes his work?
"I am interested in working in any media. I was recently commissioned to create a sculpture incorporating five used ZIPP 404 carbon tubular wheels . My original set of 'Hearts and Champions' paintings are made with acrylic underpaintings and finished with oil paint and spray enamels."
in my second year at college, there was a guy very much out of step with what passed for the accepted college mode of painterly output. he was in his final year of study and had opted to make photo-realism the object of his research, using airbrushes, acrylics and all manner of devices to render paintings that were almost indistinguishable from the photographs from which he worked. fabulous though they were, several of us could not quite comprehend why anyone would put so much effort into reproducing an image that already sat before him, and had taken but a fraction of a second to create.
however, it has to be said that there is a sizeable audience for those with the prowess to demonstrate an unparalleled technique of almost photographic reproduction. almost as many, in fact, as the number of artists who would be seriously offended if asked had they worked from photographic imagery. would david be offended if one such as i, enquired whether he worked from photographs?
"I do use photography in my process. In my teenage years I became interested in photography and was fascinated with taking photographs of the TV screen. I continue to experiment with the unique characteristics of photographs taken of live action on a computer monitor. For my paintings of pro races I'll watch the live internet feed and shoot as the action happens. The final painted images include not just my impressions of watching racing but also the experience of watching it from afar through the artistic eyes of the TV camera operators and the moto drivers. Locally I sometimes take my GoPro camera on rides and shoot hand held video footage of riders and scenery. I then review the footage as it plays and shoot still photos in the same manner I do with the race coverage. In both cases the resulting images are used as a starting point for my paintings."
painters such as leon kossoff and frank auerbach produce works of thick impasto that can often take years to realise, continuously scraping off each layer of paint before reworking the image until it satisfies their sensibilities. are david's works the result of painstaking hours at the canvas, or do the images resolve themselves a little more prudently?
"My level of interest in painstaking details seems to vary with each individual piece. In general I am most pleased when my art has a strong "feeling" to it. (of course this is subjective) Often the details that I spend more time with are of a graphic and compositional nature. I'm not sure if the results would be described more as expression or impression but in the end the experience is all happening in the viewer."
the disclaimer at the top of thewashingmachinepost rather firmly states that this is a website concerning itself pretty much solely with the world of the bicycle, a stance that i am more than comfortable with, even if i do have a tendency to digress every once in a while. the imagery prevalent on hearts and champions is also predominantly concerned with the bicycle. does he prefer to inhabit the world of cycle racing, or is there latitude to encompass other schools of thought? and does he, at the same time, see an evolution to his work, or are there self-imposed restraints?
"I suppose my artistic influences would come from just about any art that I have seen. As a child I spent a lot of time looking at picture books of many different artists. I notice that interesting artistic styles and visuals from life around me seem to make appearances in my work so I guess my experience of influence is that it's continuous and ongoing. Evolution seems unavoidable. Choices are made along the way to try working in one way or another but restraint doesn't come to mind. I like to dive into a project and find out what it demands and enjoy what appears in front of me. Practical tips from other people and newly discovered art materials are always influential too. Life is the influence. All of it."
ultimately, every successful artist has to come to terms with the need to exhibit. whether that is viewed as a necessary evil or, indeed, the very raison d'etre of those long hours in the studio depends a great deal on each individual's personality. in this age of the interweb, it is perfectly possible to simply show one's wares in pixelated format, relying on paypal for the monthly stipend. david atkinson is currently showing at the mercury espresso in toronto; is this something he views as part of his metier, or would he prefer to remain comfortable in the confines of his studio?
"I really enjoy exhibitions. They are exciting to prepare for. I hope to keep that going continuously. Exhibitions give me a chance to meet people, which provides some variety and contrast to the quiet studio hours. I will be taking the bike paintings around the Ontario race circuit this year and also introducing some handmade posters, prints and a line of t-shirts based on my paintings."
and finally, almost as a follow on from the naming conventions of rock bands such as led zeppelin, pink floyd and toad the wet sprocket, a website can adopt any moniker its protagonist sees fit, whether the resulting name has any audible or visual semblance to the site's content. i might offer up thewashingmachinepost as a pertinent example. in atkinson's case, why hearts and champions?
"Hearts and Champions' came to me in a very simple way one day as I was working on the original set of paintings. A heart shaped stencil I'd made was sitting next to a board on which I had painted the famous world champion stripes. The story started to fill in. The "Hearts" refers to the common element and the metaphorical centre of every human. The "Champions" refers to the sporting side of bike riding and the mythical stories of competition and racers. The slogan "We Ride The Same Roads" ties it all together. Because both champions, pleasure riders, and commuters literally ride the same roads and share the same heart we have a unique opportunity to mingle on and off bikes and share our experiences of the ride and life."
friday 22nd february 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................