a few words with artist, oliver brookes

oliver brookes

being a big artist fish in a small pond is being at primary school. i used to win the majority of art competitions for which i was entered, very much to the chagrin of my fellow pupils. move onto secondary school and i became a big fish in amongst several other big fishes, and the certificates and prizes were a tad harder to come by, even if much of my work gained the approbation of the teachers. however, the latter fact encouraged me to aim for art college, ultimately producing a portfolio of what i regarded as my finest minutes, allied not only to a higher art certificate, but sixth year studies too.

more through total ignorance than supreme confidence, i applied to art college without a plan b, should such application have been subsequently found wanting. thankfully, i was spared such ignominy and embarrassment. it was at that point that the house of cards became shakier than desired, and any thoughts of remaining a big fish were banished for the foreseeable future.

oliver brookes

you see, in all the years spent at school, the subject matter was bestowed upon the class by the art teacher. all we had to do in our artistic eagerness, was find ways and means to satisfy such demands. art school, it transpired, required an entirely different approach, one that relied entirely on drawing and painting students seeking their own way in the world of oil and canvas. from a personal point of view, the latter was made somewhat more onerous due to the relegation of watercolours as a media suitable only for sketches and not for the final submitted artwork for assessment.

if you've had precious little experience with oil paint, this could be seen as a problem. and it was.

the bicycle, in the shape of a raleigh-twenty shopping bike, had been left mouldering in the garden shed; art students are way too cool for cycling. it would have been, however, of great artistic solace, had i been as obsessed with bicycles then, as i profess to be nowadays. the velocipede would surely have provided thematic salvation from the scattergun approach that ultimately covered the canvases in my painting rack. the notion of remedying the situation in the present day has occasionally occurred to me, but it remains theoretical, rather than practical.

oliver brookes

however, creating art involving watercolour, landscape and bicycles has become the calling card of edinburgh-based designer, come artist, oliver brookes. oddly enough, the above combination is not as common as you'd think, or even hope, in the grand scheme of things, so what or who influenced oliver brookes in his choice of subject matter?

"Paterson (illustration right) used to do it for me in Cycling Weekly back in the 70s, but he was more of a jerkin and saddlebag sort of guy. I wanted to capture the tension of close racing set in my local East Lothian landscape."

the trouble with drawing and painting, if that's a suitable frame of reference, is that you don't see too many ads in the press for artists. but designers? so, despite favouring brushes at college, i, more pragmatically looked towards design as my future means of employment. oliver brookes studied at winchester, bristol and the royal college of art, specialising in design for the past three and a half decades, but has now decided to reveal his inner artist. however, while at college, did he specialise in graphics more than in painting?

oliver brookes

"I loved graphics at school. I supported Wolves and QPR (football clubs) just for their colours. Painting crept up on me later on, like a slow cadence minute man."

as i mentioned above, the college i attended would only accept final compositions if painted in either oils or acrylics, applied either to stretched canvas or primed board. we soon relaised that, if the priming was applied to the non-smooth side of hardboard, it offered a more tactile surface on with to apply the medium. watercolours is still, to this day, regarded as the preserve of the amateur, despite being technically more challenging than oil paint. it's a darned sight harder to scrape watercolour paint from stretched paper, than it is with oils. does oliver ever work in oils?

"Watercolours are like sprints; oils are the full Tour of Scotland. I'll need to put in some serious miles before I'm confident with the stiff brushes."

oliver brookes

when it came to submitted work for exhibition or assessment, the art student psyche within, determined that appending the words 'mixed media' to any given composition, would surely present us as 'real' artists. oliver brookes embodies this very approach in many of his cycling artworks by screenprinting monochrome groups of cyclists atop his unique take on east of scotland landscapes. are the cyclists from original drawings, or derived from photographs?

"On a training night, I tuck a Go Pro into my jersey, auto-shooting every two seconds, taking it out when things get dramatic. Back home, I sort through the 3600 shots, discarding 3500 close-ups of my pocket."

nomenclature often gets in the way of reality, creating denominations and categories that don't always represent that which they've been designed for. thus there are sculptors, painters, designers, videographers etc., all of whom can be placed under the umbrella of 'artists'. mr brookes' watercolours are undoubtedly the work of an artist, yet the screenprinted cyclists arguably turn the final images into the preserve of the graphic designer. does he make any distinction between 'designer' and 'artist'?

oliver brookes

"A domestique, like a designer, sells their creative services to the team manager, while an artist is out of radio contact, free to extemporise and dictate the race plan.
"I like to think of myself as an irascible-obsessive-hybrid; half Cavendish, half Van Gogh"

in his compendium 'one more kilometre and we're in the showers', author tim hilton propounds that cycling is comprised of a greater proportion of artistic individuals than most other groups of individuals. has oliver found this to be so?

"All cyclists are righteous and good, except Lance"

on reaching the home-page of oliver brooke, you're met with an attractive image, the centrepiece of which is a road bicycle, probably depicting his cinelli estrada pro, described in a sub-menu, as comprising matt black carbon with wishbone seatstays. would this indicate that oliver is more in thrall to carbon than steel?

"Men obsess all their lives about what they couldn't attain when they were 18. In torpid middle-age, they fight off the dimming of the light by trying to buy back their prime years with overpriced retro nonsense. I love new kit and try to face forwards not back."

i have a few friends who are professional photographers, chaps who are never to be found without a camera about their person, whether a compact digital or one of those all singing, all dancing mirrorless doohickies. and they're not shy of using them, snapping images at every opportunity. i, on the other hand, frequently have a camera in one of the three rear pockets, but the internal debates over whether i ought to interrupt a bike ride to snap a photo, almost always result in the continuation of pedalling.

oliver brookes

does oliver find moments, when sat in his toyota yaris, composing yet another masterpiece, that really, he'd rather be out on the bike?

"No. Painting is just as obsessive and absorbing as going flat out in the bunch, right on the rivet."

modern society delights in progress. the art of standing still for any appreciable length of time is currently persona non grata. but essentially, there's nothing wrong with reaching a particular level in an artistic career, and deciding to sit there. john lowry morrison is an excellent example of this, even if comparisons with status quo are hardly too far from the mark. but surely at least a part of the joy of being an artist, is continually striving for what ultimately might be termed the unattainable.

does oliver have a specific aim in his career as an artist, or is he simply happy to be making images as he sees fit?

"Wouldn't it be great if you could draw as smoothly and intuitively as you ride through a cambered downhill curve? That's my ambition."

oliver's singularly inventive art can be seen and purchased from his website

saturday 16 november 2019

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................