Meet the prince of automotive pop-art
Tim Layzell spends his days lost in a bygone world of vintage racing; the sounds, colours, speed and danger – all brought back to life by brushstroke
In a small artist’s studio south of Bath in the west of England, Tim Layzell spends his days lost in a bygone world of vintage racing; the sounds, the colours, the speed and the danger brought back to life by brushstroke. In a relatively short time, Tim has become one of the foremost automotive artists in the world, sought after by a growing band of serious collectors for his unique, dynamic style and intimate, rigorous knowledge of the subject.
Layzell’s love of cars started early by anyone’s standards – when his mother was pregnant with him. “My parents used to watch vintage sports car club races with my older brother, and I was taken to Wiscombe and Prescott hillclimbs. From the age of about three, my mum would lay the paints out on the kitchen floor and I’d be drawing Bugattis, ERAs or D-Type Jags.”
The family passion for all things racing meant that the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival were soon regular fixtures for the Layzells, as was crowding around the TV to watch the Grand Prix or clambering up a muddy hillside to see the RAC rally. But it was the historic racing that really captured the young artist’s imagination, and what would be his gateway to an unexpected day job.
“I started painting for fun,” he explains, “but at the age of 13 I won the British Racing Drivers’ Club award to find a new motoring artist. I was exhibiting with all the top artists of the time, who’d been painting since the 1960s and 70s, so that really kicked it off. After that it was like my alternative to a paper round really, and every year from then on I would exhibit.”
Still at school, Tim was gradually developing his artistic style, insisting on painting cars to the chagrin of his art teachers. He began to study the Futurists and pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. He also drew influence from George Ham, famous for his evocative pre-war posters of the Monaco GP. Today, his preferred period is post-war, from the 1950s through to the 1970s – for many the golden age of sportscar racing.
“That time has always fascinated me. It was the peak of racing really. Obviously it was a really dangerous period of racing’s history, but also a really pure one. After graduation I had wanted to study car design, but decided to give painting a go because I’d already sold half of the stuff I’d done at school, so it was already kind of a job.”
Exposure came fast. A commission to do a Christmas card for classic car dealer Gregor Fisken was soon followed by another of Stirling Moss’s 1960 Tourist Trophy-winning Ferrari 250 SWB. This landed in a broadsheet newspaper to promote the Festival of Speed and Layzell’s name, and style, was out there.
Today, he does 15-20 paintings a year. Following an appearance in Porsche’s customer magazine Christophorus in 2017, he is still fulfilling orders from around the world for owners of classic and modern 911 cars who want their pride and joy preserved for posterity in Layzell’s distinctive style. He has also painted the Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid at Porsche’s request and the iconic Martini-sponsored 911 RSR that won the Targa Florio in 1973.
The pop art style he is renowned for is, by his own admission, “quite house friendly”, and he receives more commissions than you might expect from the spouses of petrolheads, happy to have the dynamism and colour of his pictures in pride of place above the mantlepiece. But he also paints in a realist style on occasion, with more muted tones and exacting attention to detail.
“The research takes ages because I want it to be as historically accurate as possible. So for example, all my Targa Florio backgrounds are real backgrounds. I drove the route a few years ago and took lots of photos. I was painting another one of Stirling Moss at Goodwood last year and had to work out the race order at a certain time in the 1959 TT, which is actually pretty hard to find.”
While there may be historical evidence to help set the scene, a certain degree of creative thinking is still required to conjure up the ideal atmosphere. “Even with really well-known races there often aren’t many photographs,” he says. “Take the Porsche that won the Targa in 1973. They will have photographed that in the pits and taken a few on corners, but it won’t necessarily be the most spectacular part, so I have to piece that together by finding the ideal background and fitting the cars to it.”
Tim will then spend countless hours ensuring he has the right race order for the given time of day. That any damage sustained by the cars by that point in the race is evident, that the right driver is in the car, that advertising hoardings are correct, that the clocktower is telling the right time. “My wife would say I’m a geek,” he laughs, “but I just like to get it right.”
While this painstaking research lends his work an edge of authenticity, so does a deeper understanding of how a car looks at the limit. After a childhood in the grandstands and now with several seasons of racing his own vintage TVR Grantura under his belt, Layzell has an invaluable grasp of how cars from different periods behave at speed. “In terms of how the car will look, you have to think about how it moves around a corner. A lot of people appreciate that I do love driving and understand about chassis dynamics. In my realist work I tend to put a car on a corner where it’s lifting the inside front wheel. And obviously that has an impact on the back of the car, where the rear wheel is depressed right into the wheel arch. You can feed all of that into a picture.”
Layzell combines the attributes of passion and perfectionism to brilliant effect, evidenced by a stunning body of work. Tomorrow, on the Porsche tribe, he shares some advice for anyone hoping to follow in his footsteps – or for those wanting to while away a day or two finding their own inner artist.