The motorcycle art of Mike Beswick

The motorcycle as art

| September/October 2006

Art, or what constitutes art, is extremely subjective. Corral a group in a room and ask them their views on Claude Monet’s Water Lillies and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink, and you’ll get widely divergent views on which is art. One piece might be viewed as pointless drivel, and the other as the pinnacle of artistic expression. And maybe even in that order.

Mike Beswick, the creator of the work shown here, isn’t comfortable with being termed an artist. “I would never consider what I do art. The whole idea is to give people a piece of that (classic bikes), because many people can’t afford these bikes. It’ll be the closest they ever get. All I’ve given them is an option of having a piece of that experience. It’s visual, but they don’t get to ride it, smell it or work on it,” Beswick says.

Beswick started painting some 30 years ago, and he credits his high school teacher, Bob Bateman, with inspiring his interest in painting and drawing. “He’d bring his paintings in, and we’d watch him work away on these huge photo realist paintings of African wildlife,” Beswick says. At the time, he had no idea where that inspiration would lead him, but today, some 30 years later, he’s quietly emerging as an artist of note, and classic motorcycles are the motivation and focus behind his current work.

Motorcycles as subjects of study are a natural extension of Beswick’s own interests. He’s been riding since he was 18, and counts four bikes in his garage. And while his own bikes are all Japanese, the appeal of classic British, Italian and American iron is clear in his drawings, which are themselves classic examples of photorealism.

Photorealism, which very intentionally takes its cues from photographs, has its roots in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. In striking contrast to abstract or impressionist paintings, photorealism stresses very precise, objective renderings of any subject, but often from an unfamiliar perspective. It is exactly that aspect that drew him to the discipline in the first place, Beswick says. “A lot of people just walk around, they look at things at the same level; they don’t look at the sky. So that’s part of photorealism, knocking it off balance, looking at it from a different angle.”

From an early age, Beswick’s mother, a ceramicist, encouraged his interest in art. Yet his formal training is limited to two years at the Dundas Valley School of Art in Ontario, Canada. But the school’s instructors, many of them graduates of England’s traditional Royal Academy, focused on classic disciplines in art. For Beswick, whose early aspirations included commercial art, the experience was less than fulfilling. “The second year, I spent the majority of the time just doing what I wanted outside the classroom. I didn’t follow the curriculum,” Beswick says.

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