Rachel Petruccillo

Artist Profile

It’s that time of year: the time for all the gift giving etc, where mainly we see on our favourite cycling websites and magazines publish their gift guide, or a variety of it. We wanted to take this opportunity and season to take a closer look at some artists and artisans that create beautiful things, and if you were so inspired to engage during this holiday season, a bit more info to get you started.

Rachel Petruccillo is an American artist, working mainly in Watercolor to paint her vision of cycling. Going beyond just portraiture and figures riding, her canvases often portray the unique feeling of watching bike racing, a feeling that is different and singular to the viewer, and her portrayal of this brings the paintings to life: we see the bike, the rider and the race as she sees it.

We were lucky to grab some time of hers to speak to her about her art:

-How long have you been drawing/ painting/ creating art? Tell us about your background, and more specifically, how long have you been working creating cycling art?

“I’ve been creating art most of my life, using different mediums at different times.  In 2000 I graduated with a BFA and moved to NYC where I began a career in marketing. I really wanted to be part of the cycling industry but it was so competitive, I couldn’t get hired without industry experience. Ultimately, I chose to leave my first career in 2013 to focus on art. For a few years, I was drawing and painting unusual portraits from candid photographs I’d taken around the world. I exhibited many of my pieces in group shows but it’s difficult to sell the type of work I was making.

On a whim this past March, I drew a portrait of one of the riders during a stage of the Paris-Nice race. It occurred to me that I could combine my love of cycling with my creative work and it opened up new possibilities. Quickly, I found the cycling world to be much friendlier and more open than the art world. The art world is very difficult for most emerging artists to enter. On the other hand, the cycling community is passionate about all things related to the sport and so many people have shown a genuine enthusiasm for my work. The response has been encouraging and I now feel part of a community.”

-What is it about cycling that inspires you creatively?

“I find cycling a sport of beauty. I find the design and simplicity of bicycles a thing of beauty. I find the experience they give you, whether it’s feeling the elements or seeing the world in a different way or certainly at a different pace, I find that inspiring. Watching professional races also inspires me. Watching on TV, we’re transported to some of the most picturesque regions of the world and an exciting race can be exhilarating to watch. How can that NOT be inspiring?”

-If you could draw or paint one rider past or present as a commission from them, who would it be?

“As an artist, I would choose Eddy Merckx. As a lover of the sport, I would choose Greg LeMond.”

-What is your all time favourite piece you’ve done?

“Actually, one of my favorite pieces is a watercolor I painted of Eddy Merckx. Eddy is an icon, larger than life, with so much style and such an expressive face. I love trying to capture that on paper and it would certainly be an honor, though intimidating, to do a commission for such a legend. It would also be a thrill to present a piece to Greg LeMond. Watching old footage of him racing or listening to him speak then and now, I admire his determination and heart. I wish that I watched cycling when I was a kid to have witnessed that young American winning the Tour de France.

There are so many current and past riders with such distinctive personalities and riding styles, I often find it difficult to determine whom to paint next.”

-How do you find balancing the commercial aspect with the artistic side works?

“Since I began making cycling art, I no longer think solely about creating. I have never wanted art to be just a hobby so I cannot neglect the business side, but I find it difficult to balance it all. I’m keen to market and sell my art because I believe there is a lot of opportunity, but it all takes time away from making the work itself. When I attended art school there were no classes about how to make a living as an artist so it takes a lot of research and trial and error.

My goal for the coming year is to be more efficient at handling the business side so I can spend more time creating because for me, being an artist is all consuming. When I’m not making art, I’m thinking about the piece sitting on my desk or the pieces I want to make next. I want to be working on it most of the time, every day. There are never enough hours. I think many people have the impression that practicing art is relaxing and maybe for some it is, but for me it is not. I love the work and I definitely get into a zone, but it is not at all relaxing. My hands are tense, my neck aches and I fluctuate between being pleased with the progress or completely disgusted and defeated. It’s a bit like cycling in that way. Cycling can be extraordinarily difficult and physically painful but it’s beautiful and addictive and practicing art is much the same.”

-Are there any riders you find particular hard to draw and paint?

“I find it a bit more difficult to capture modern cycling. So many of the defining characteristics of each rider are absent or covered due to advances in safety and technology and it can be frustrating to find the aesthetic I’m looking for. This is why I find myself returning to classic figures. There was more individuality. Riders wore caps, distinct hairstyles, non-aerodynamic sunglasses, and stylish wristwatches and jerseys didn’t resemble stock cars with every inch covered in endorsements. These are all things you wouldn’t find today, with good reason, but it does take a little of the panache out of it.

I like to feature riders from all eras in my work, but when I paint modern riders, I look for distinctive riding styles or physical qualities that make them unique. Someone like Chris Froome, for example, is easily recognizable from a distance with his lanky limbs and the way he tilts his head during a climb. If I want to achieve a likeness, these are the kind visual cues I look for in a subject. Of course I would never suggest anyone ride without a helmet for my artistic purposes!”

Thanks Rachel for taking the time to chat to us!  You can find all of her work here: http://www.rpetru.com/cycling/

and check her out on instagram at @rachpetru

All images copyright Rachel Petruccillo reprinted with permission.