I’ve got a confession: I am an art snob. No holds barred, not too ashamed to say it. Tried and true product of an American art university, card-carrying, stayed awake through art history courses art snob.
So this snobbery, (which I do embrace) leads me normally to detest the idea of “Bike Art.” To me, art is art, art exists to only be art, and any art that relies on the viewer liking the subject matter to like the piece of art, does not qualify to me as a good work. In my book, if art exists about bikes, only if an objective viewer, (not a cyclist/fan) can also see the beauty in it, the value and aesthetic, this then warrants some merit.
So in the microcosm of cycling, this is somewhat rare. We’ve seen in the past century Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” and numerous sculptures by Ai Wei Wei. But we’ve also seen a lot of not so great “bike art.”
Which leads me to say, when I visited with a friend this summer, the home of her parents in the South of France, I found a hidden gem in the world of art. Her father, a dedicated cyclist and fan, has quietly been painting for many many years his interpretations of cycling onto large-scale canvases. What is so rare in his work is not just flawless execution and skill in the paintings, but his ability to abstract the elements of cycling, the paintings, although structurally strong, all possess and emit the emotionality, the raw failure, glory and everything in between we know and love about cycling. And he never once does it by painting a finish line.
Jeff Parr started painting over 50 years ago, working as a freelance Fine Artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House, Madame Tussauds, the London Planetarium to name a few. He went on to work as an animator and graphic designer with Yorkshire Television, winning awards including the prestigious International Parigraph Network Identity Grand Prix (Paris) and the best graphic design honour of the International Visual Communications Association.
Creative process is a personal thing of course, and Jeff told us during our visit: ” The inspiration for my paintings comes from my unconditional love of the sport of cycling. “Emotion” is the key word I would use for all my paintings. My emotion is stimulated by colour; sound (eg the sound of light tyres on different road surfaces makes my heart race along with the ratchet noise of many freewheels); the heroics of riders in different weather conditions. I like to use my own experiences and memories of cycling. I feel it gives me a special empathy and the physical act of cycling stimulates my brain’s creativity process.”
And emotion is long and deep-rooted for the artist. His history in the sport has been since a very young age, and is marked by moments, that he brightly reminisces on, meeting Felice Gimondi, visiting the home and tomb of Fausto Coppi, and one memory that outshines: a day spent with Giovanni Pinarello. ” He sensed my passion for the sport and my keen technical interest in bike manufacture and equipment. He reminisced about his racing exploits and proudly showed me his famous racing jerseys especially the black jersey and explained it was a coveted jersey because it meant getting the lap of honour at the Vigorelli along with the rider in the pink jersey. He also showed me some of his latest projects – you have to remember this was pre-Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain days so although his bikes had won the Giro, he had yet to win the Tour de France. I like to think of his passion, determination and attention to detail as similar attributes to my own. ”
(The artist with Giovanni Pinarello, 1985)
So as much as I could write 10 pages here of critical art theory and bore the readers with in-depth references (Movement like the Italian futurist Giacomo Balla, the realist-surrealism of Magritte, and the patterns and flow of the Viennese Secession) The images surely speak for themselves. Below’s “The Bunch Dreams” and “What a Day” both show in its purest form a truly unique viewpoint, and technical mastery. They invoke an emotion from within and without, as a viewer, fan, or cyclist. And to add another layer, many have a hidden message: “I like to include a secret code of images that the viewer may uncover, hopefully giving my paintings longevity. I don’t look for impact which I think is short-lived. I invite viewers into my paintings without necessarily making it easy for them.” Jeff told us.
His cycling heroes: Coppi, Gimondi, Indurain… It’s not a surprise he’s a modern fan of Wiggins and Quintana: his heroes all infused cycling with their own personal style, much like the paintings.
His lifestyle in France allows Jeff to paint almost full time, and although each of these paintings can take up to 6 months to complete, his aspirations for them remain humble. More often than not, he hopes the inspirations behind the canvases might have a chance to see the paintings.
“In particular, I would really like Greg LeMond to see my painting “Mondrian was Right” depicting my reaction to his betrayal by Bernard Hinault in the 1986 Tour de France. I gleaned the idea from the sheer injustice I had read about. I was present at the Alpe d’Huez stage that year and witnessed Hinault and LeMond finishing the stage together in their illusionary false truce. The painting was completed in 1990, long before the documentary “Slaying the Badger”. Although I decided to entitle the painting “Mondrian was Right” (which is a deception in itself) based on the team jersey design of the all-conquering La Vie Clair team, the painting has a more serious agenda as the narrative is really about Bernard Hinault’s deception and broken promise to Greg LeMond. It also subtly hints at the emergence of America onto the European cycling scene If LeMond saw and appreciated the painting I would be thrilled but if he actually owned it, well…”
And of course… “I would love Mario Cipollini to own my painting entitled “SuperMario”; a semi-abstract work that incorporates the style and fashion-conscious revolution he brought to the world of pro-cycling. Included are the colours of every jersey he won during his illustrious career.”
(Super Mario can be seen on the wall in the background of below shot)
So we will leave you there, with one last image, for those loyal enough to read all the way through… Perhaps the most stunning in precision, charm and pure beauty. All of Jeff Parr’s paintings can be seen here and get in touch with us or him if you want to see more.
Words: Laura Fletcher
Images Ben Broomfield