van gogh, rather than touring holland telling all and sundry about the vase of sunflowers that had undoubtedly floated his boat, dragged the oils and brushes from the cupboard and painted a picture of them. for which we must be truly thankful. since vincent is no longer amongst us, those of us who would have missed his hypothetical lecture tour can still share the man's idiosyncratic vision.
all sorts of subject matter instils a sense of celebration and inspiration amongst the observant; many of us choose simply to enjoy those moments in our own way, perhaps making mention of it on the way to the recycle bin on a thursday afternoon, or more likely, keeping it pretty much to ourselves. however, for reasons that remain mostly inexplicable, there are those amongst us who choose to share these insights with others, pretty much whether they want us to or not. though i spent my formative years at art college, the desire to capture everything i see in charcoal, pencil or watercolours has deserted me in the intervening years. this has seemingly been supplanted by a need to regale the world with my thoughts on cycling.
which you are being foolish enough to read at this very minute.
visitors to last weekend's bespoked held at lee valley velodrome would hopefully have seen the rather unique paintings of mark jones, all of which concern cycling and bicycles in some way or another. with their strong, often bright colours, they made for a very impressive display on the wall of the velodrome. technically, an artist ought to be able to make a reasonable stab at depicting a whole variety of subjects, so why did mark settle on bicycles?
"I spend a lot of time on a bike (80 - 100 miles per week) thinking, whilst commuting to work or on Saturday morning blasts in the leafy lanes of Hampshire. I renovate a lot of road bikes in my spare time when not painting (200+ built and sold over the last five years).
"My first full time job was in a bike shop in Covent Garden. I see the bike, like many people, as a symbol; of transport, efficiency, freedom, and even euphoria! Most of the bikes I do 'portraits' of, reflect the personality in some way of their owners."
this comprehensive body of work is not, however, the result of a lifelong quest to paint the bicycle in several natural and unnatural habitats. according to mark, he's only been concerned with the velocipede in paint for the past four years, a fact that makes those on display all the more impressive.
within the exhibit at bespoked, the collage of work featured two distinct styles and sizes of bicycle painting. the larger works placed varying cycles in an almost heraldic setting, while the smaller still life works had a more relaxed approach, where the bicycle was often secondary in importance. these latter images are possesed of more subdued colours and tones than their larger counterparts. was that a deliberate observation on his part?
"I visited the Riksmuseum in Amsterdam last year and wanted to make paintings about coffee and cycling. The 17th Century Dutch Still life and Vanitas paintings with their subdued and sombre tones caught my imagination. I wanted to make the still life paintings more intimate than the emblematic bicycle paintings."
paintings of cycling action are often the least successful of the realm of bicycle art, mostly because, more often than not, they have to be 'transcribed' from photos. in my opinion, this is not a particularly valid solution. with photographers such as sky's scott mitchell and trek's emily maye, i truly cannot see what so-called action paintings bring to the party. mark jones has avoided this trap entirely, his work exhibiting elements of both graphic design and more traditional oil painting. is this a conscious decision or something dictated by the subject?
"Yes, it's a conscious decision and is dictated by the subject. I studied Fine Art at University, BA and MA Degree and also trained as a signwriter, so I use many of the traditional techniques associated with signwriting when producing my paintings, including using a Mahl stick!"
as i made plain in my opening paragraph, an artist's subject matter is often as a result of inspiration, along with a unique vision that might transcend pure realism. the latter aspect may well have been de rigeur in the days of the pre-raphaelites, but in these modern times with an iphone in every pocket, endlessly uploading to flickr and instagram, i prefer my art to give some indication as to the vision of the man or woman at the end of the paintbrush. standing back to take in the body of work on display at the velodrome, i'm sure i detected at least a hint of surrealism. would this be a fair judgment?
"Yes, I think so. In my bicycle paintings, objects float, implying weightlessness and I will often light them theatrically. One or two paintings incorporate anamorphic distortions (BSA parabike); I used a shadow projection to plot the bike shape and then rendered it to look three dimensional. I have borrowed ideas from lots of art and historical sources and certainly I am interested in the Surrealist mix of dream and reality, painting with photographic precision, everyday objects. But I haven't got to the stage of mixing incongruous objects together just yet."
keeping body and soul together while attempting to carve out a career as a professional artist is not as simple as some of us would like it to be. believe me, i know. so when time comes to put a series of works on a wall, constituting an exhibition, there are necessary costs incurred: canvas, framing, transport, catalogues and a share of the private view expenses. when the canvases start to become larger, frames correspondingly cost more; if only there were some way to avoid that.
in my case, i cheated by continuing each oil painting round the edges. if the purchaser (who am i kidding?) decided subsequently to frame the painting, it would, i convinced myself, improve the integrity of the work. in retrospect, that may have been a cheap shot, but i noted that mr jones performed the same practice on his own works. what encouraged him to continue painting round the edges?
"I am interested in the painting as an object and how it projects from the wall. I don't want it to appear precious by having a frame to hide the sides and give it gravitas."
last sunday morning's bike ride ended, as it always does, with a cup of coffee in debbie's cafe, bruichladdich. this could, perhaps reasonably be considered something of an addiction or maybe simply those of us in the peloton fulfilling our inevitable typecasting. there has to be some reason why the rapha cycle clubs are centred around coffee. in the light of the coffee cups seen in mark jones' still life paintings, would he describe himself as a coffee addict?
"Yes, I enjoy drinking coffee and seeking out that elusive perfect cup, but I am not in the league of connoisseur."
brooklyn's taliah lempert has made a busy career out of painting 'portraits' of bicycles owned by friends, clients or friends of clients. few, if any of her considered work concerns her own bicycles. does mark own any of the cycles that appear in his paintings?
"Yes, the BSA parabike, Harry Quinn, Condor Barracchi. I did own a Bob Jackson, Hetchins, Rotrax, Major Nichols. So I have owned many of them at one time or another, or I know the people that have. If there is a particular marque I want to paint, I will buy the bike or ask the owner if i might borrow it so that I can work from primary sources. All the paintings have associations linked with people, stories, personal events, places, journeys and experiences.
"You can read about them on my website.
"I still have a number of bikes I want to paint, including a Tomassini Tecno with retinata paint finish, Colnago Art Decor, Pete Matthews and Ron Cooper. And I have a number of commissions including a 100 year old Bantam, a Hetchins and a Mercian."
as i have attested above, making a living as an artist is a less than simple task. for starters, there's no guaranteed stream of income, no matter how often you exhibit, but in order to get as far as the next display, it's necessary to eat. and canvas doesn't grow on trees. is this the day job?
"No, I am Head of Art at Peter Symonds 6th form college, Winchester, so I try to practice what I preach and my paintings reflect my two of my passions; art and cycling."
though mark jones' paintings are particularly reasonably priced, for those of us possessed of a less than generous bank manager or spouse, many of them are available as prints, making them the ideal gift for the cyclist in your life, even if that's you.
monday 21 april 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................