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Zinc and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


'Tired Runabout'
Raleigh RM

At seventeen, I enroled on a Pre-Diploma course at Art School and also purchased my first motorbike. For the next twenty-five years, motorcycles played an indirect part in subsequent endeavours: much of my preferred subject matter was first seen from a motorbike saddle: gasometers, abandoned junk in the landscape, corroding farm implements, derelict industrial machinery (I also constructed a side-car large enough to transport an entire exhibition of framed pictures!) But once any drawings were initiated, pencils would soon be dropped in favour of spanners as the bikes' mechanical shortcomings became apparent. By the time a test-ride was completed, artwork would be long-abandoned or covered with oil spatters and tyre tracks.

It was not until 1993 that 1 first drew a motorcycle without distraction or interruption. The immaculate "Brough Superior" had belonged to a friend who died tragically in an accident. Being familiar with the subject, I now had the opportunity to observe it at leisure without the temptation to tinker. Despite the sad circumstances, this study proved immensely absorbing and resulted in an etching which helped to raise money towards a memorial fund.

'Getting ready for the Road'
Brough Superior SS80

Later, I treated my "BSA Bantam" to a bout of maintenance. Anyone who has owned a Bantam will know that the amount of time and temper involved in making it run properly is out of all proportion to the net result. So, taking a break from repeated, futile kickstarting, I looked at the clutter of grubby parts, tools and empty mugs - and realised what I saw was actually a still-life telling the whole sorry story. This time, artistic desire overcame the drive for mechanical perfection and the ensuing etching caused me to embark on a series of motorcycle prints: etchings on zinc plate.

Bantam Maintenance
B.S.A D7 Bantam
Bantam in the Weeds
B.S.A D1 Bantam1

The enthusiasm with which these images were received surprised me. (It seems there are lots of ex-tearaways masquerading as respectable citizens !) With funding from sales, I was able to buy derelict machines specifically for drawing, and fellow -enthusiasts have been particularly generous - loaning their vehicles. However, it is the choice of surroundings that sometimes causes consternation - a specially assembled environment is always in danger of appearing contrived.

'Awaiting Repair' Norton Big 4
'Commando at Ease'
Norton 850 Mk IIA Commando

In November 1 purchased an "Ariel" which had been exported to India, when new, 40 years ago - and deserved a typically British scene to depict its homecoming. Deciding that a big puddle might be appropriate, I constructed a dam so that the backyard could be flooded. I chopped logs to build a woodpile; and added dustbins, flower pots and a bucket of coal, before the bike was finally wheeled into a setting which, I hoped, contrasted with its former location.

Incidentally, the original Bantam, perhaps realising that life as an artist's model was preferable to being thrashed along muddy lanes, refused to start and was sold the following week

You can contact Nick at: 38 Bulmer Lane, Winterton-on-Sea, GT. Yarmouth, Norfolk NR29 4AF. England.