The motorcycle art of Mike Beswick

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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.

After high school, and before attending Dundas, Beswick worked at sawmills in British Columbia, and then for the railway. After Dundas, he returned to B.C., working once again for the railway; he’s currently a locomotive engineer for BC Rail in Canada. “I made the mistake of making money,” Beswick quips when discussing art as a living. “You’re looking at decades, if ever, before making money at art.”

His interest in mechanical subjects as objects of art runs deep, but it’s only recently that he’s been able to express that interest in his art. “Ever since I was little, I went through this frustration of not being able to draw a vehicle. It took me years to get where I am, and maybe I needed a break to get to this,” Beswick says.

His break was long. Like many of us, he married and had kids, settling into life as a husband, father and provider. But his art was still there, waiting in the background, a discipline he applied himself to when the responsibilities of work and family allowed. For a number of years he worked in large formats, 4ft by 5ft acrylic paintings, but recently he started focusing on photorealism, with motorcycles as his subjects.

The pieces shown here were only created in the past year, and Beswick credits Motorcycle Classics for his reintroduction to the motorcycling scene. “I read the magazine, and it was like getting hit in the head with a hammer. I thought, ‘my god, this is it, this is the way people are thinking,'” Beswick, says. “The biking scene has changed. It’s a positive thing, it’s allowing people to get together and have a good time. It’s amazing.”

Most of his work is commission, and he insists on personally inspecting and photographing every bike before projecting its image on a screen and making his rendering. “You have to look at what’s unique about each individual bike and bring that out,” Beswick says. “It’s very personalized. The pitting, the rust, the bluing of the pipes, there’s all kinds of interesting things happening. You have to look at what’s unique about each individual bike and bring that out.”

His approach results in depictions that are profiles of specific, individual bikes, not simply generic renderings of a model. “When I did that Ducati, he (the owner) loved it, it’s actually his bike, he can recognize it. It’s like pets. It’s the same thing with people and their motorcycles,” Beswick says.

His subject interests run beyond motorcycles, but not far.  “Anything mechanical,” he says. “I’d love to do locomotives and airplanes. World War II airplanes are my passion, I grew up thinking I’d have a Spitfire when I was older.”

Fortunately, he plans to continue with his motorcycle art, working at his own pace, learning more as he goes. “I’m not at the point I want to be,” Beswick says. “But it’s always been an inner drive. I’ve always wanted to do representational work. I never wanted to be a deep thinker: I don’t want to have to make an excuse or come up with a thesis about my motivation. I just want to draw something and say that’s that. It’s quite simple.”

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