The Sunday supplement: down to the canvas
Meet the painting prodigy breathing new life into vintage motorsport
There is a pretty obvious dichotomy between motor racing and art. The one an angry, energetic blur of speed and noise, the other a quiet, steady sort of process, full of gentle thought and deed.
But 36-year-old British painter Tim Layzell has managed to straddle the chasm between his two passions like few before him, creating technicolour canvasses fit to burst with the sounds and smells of period motorsport.
The tribe tracked Tim down to his small studio on the outskirts of Bristol in south west England. Here, for many years, Tim has ploughed an unusual furrow, recreating iconic images and historic moments from the most romantic decades of 20th Century racing.
He works quickly, with an energy and vigour ideally suited to his subject if not his medium, creating up to 15 pieces a year, two thirds of which are private commissions. The remaining pieces seem to sell as fast as the cars they depict.
Tim has been doing this for as long as he can remember. Taken to vintage car shows by his parents as a toddler, he was soon drawing racing cars at the kitchen table with a remarkable eye for proportion and detail. He remembers watching the film ‘Le Mans’ time and again as a youngster, firing up the VHS tape before breakfast and disappearing into that heady world of 917s and Ferrari 512s, dueling down the Mulsanne Straight.
At just 13 years of age he won the Young Motoring Artist Award, a competition put on by the BRDC that pitched him against painters almost ten years his senior. The publicity from this brought Tim’s extraordinary talents to a wider audience, and it was not long before his work was in high demand.
Another big moment in Tim’s development as a painter was the day, a few years later, a customer gave him an early copy of ‘Faszination on the Nürburgring’, the now famous film of the RUF CTR ‘Yellowbird’ dancing around the Nordschleife, with test driver Stefan Roser in his legendary white socks and suede loafers. Tim would watch the footage over and over, marvelling at the speed and peril, the dynamism and delicacy of a 911 at the limit, something he would later take great pains to recreate on canvas.
School and college were background players in Tim’s creative journey. “I’d like to see my art teachers now really,” he muses. “They didn’t want me drawing cars.” But draw them he did, moving swiftly on to oils and then acrylics, honing various styles and techniques with realist and pop art influences. “I got used to knowing how to make a car look like it’s moving,” he says, “but it still has to look right. I don’t like just painting a car on a piece of tarmac.”
In fact, a vital element in Tim’s success as a painter comes from his intimate understanding of racing cars, their engineering and behaviour. To get a car to look right is rarely, he explains, about depicting a huge sideways slide. It’s the nuanced details that the eye barely picks up that make the difference – the compression of suspension, slight wheel angles, tyres filling arches.
These are the trompe l'oeil of the motorsport artist, subtle, intelligent and requiring a meaningful understanding of their subject.
Tim is just fastidious and inflexible when it comes to the historical accuracy of the scenes he depicts, with research for a single painting often taking months. He admits to some artistic license, but establishes wherever possible the correct race order at the right time on a given circuit – no easy feat more than half a century on.
Working from black and white photos creates a particular challenge, the wildly differing liveries being such a critical part of the theatre of motorsport. Sometimes the research pays off, sometimes it has to be a sensitive, educated guess.
But you only have to glance at Tim’s work to be utterly convinced, and drawn deeply into his creative vision. Be it the pop art of a 911 RSR on the Targa Florio, or the realist vision of 917s hammering around Le Sarthe, he manages to evoke the atmosphere of those bygone days, the intensity of the racing, the speed and sound, the drama.
But perhaps the most important aspect, the Layzell USP, is that extraordinary palette. Archive images, be they black and white or early colour, will never provide what Tim can with a wise eye and judicious brushstroke.
This is where technology loses out to skill, graft and a celebratory, all-consuming passion.