Cycling and art have a wonderful shared history that goes back to the very origins of the bike itself, and never has the relationship been so intertwined and so fruitful as it is now.
At London’s Spin Cycling Festival, 12-14 May, we’re fortunate enough to be showcasing some amazing bike-related artwork from a number of creatives in a range of media, and among them is the remarkable Eliza Southwood. You may or may not be familiar with the name, but a lot of us who love bikes recognize the work and the distinctive style.
Or maybe you just couldn’t resist picking up a bottle of Cono Sur – the official wine of the Tour de France? – yes, that was her too.
We grabbed a few minutes with Eliza to discover what’s new, what’s coming up and what makes her tick…
Eliza’s best known medium is silk screen printing. It lends itself well to classic-looking illustrations of road cycle racing from a bygone era, and evokes battles of old through the mighty cols and sunflower fields.
“Everything starts with a hand drawing,” says Eliza. “I love screen printing because of the blockiness, and the hand-made appearance when it goes a bit wrong. I like strong lines.”
The imagery associated with road racing is an inspiration to Eliza. The Grand Tours and the Classics, and some of the drama’s major protagonists.
“I think visually a peloton is a wonderful thing to draw,” Eliza tells us. “So many colours and backgrounds – there is a lot of variety in cycling. I really like the doping era – the 80s and 90s. it’s a purely visual thing – the bad hair, no helmets, lurid outfits, nice looking steel bikes.”
Happy when it rains
“I like the Spring Classics – especially the cobbled sections,” and it’s no surprise to learn she’s a fan of Le Tour, “I went to the Champs Elysees last summer. Also I’ve been amazed by watching cyclocross – I went to see the world championships in Belgium a couple of years ago – it’s the only sport where spectators are overjoyed when it starts raining!”
“My favourite thing this year was meeting Miguel Indurain… he is an inspiring person, very down to earth and incredibly nice.”
We might not be able to identify Big Mig directly in Eliza’s artwork, but his spirit is certainly there among other giants in cycling culture.
Taking the long route
Eliza’s route to becoming a full time artist is an unusual one – in 2011 she took the brave step of giving up a decade-long career as an architect to follow her dream.
“Sitting in an office and drawing plans for stadium stair cores wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing in the long term,” reveals Eliza.
“I was then asked to write a design guide to swimming pools and spent many hours wondering how I would illustrate it rather than focusing on the technical stuff. I realised I was in the wrong job.”
“Drawing is integral to practising architecture, although shockingly many architects can’t draw – having said that, I know of several architects who have moved into an artistic career. Being interested in and observing what’s around you and your environment is essential for both careers.”
“Now that I’ve liberated myself from the architectural career I can enjoy buildings again out of pure interest rather than having to involve myself in the design process.”
During the last five years Eliza’s artwork for clients includes illustrations for Bloomsbury, Cono Sur Wines, Laurence King Publishing, London Transport Museum, Magma, Rapha, REW Reynolds, Sustrans, the Tweed Run and the V&A Museum. A lot of her time is spent on private commissions, with some of her newest work being snapped up by galleries – but Eliza promises that the concentration this year is on producing new prints.
One well-loved series of Eliza’s artwork that sidesteps the silk screen is Coffee Peloton, percolating the essence of pro cycling through the medium of “the finest dark-roasted coffee beans” on ivory paper. Does cycling, distinctive art and artisan coffee represent a new holy trinity? A totally non-scientific poll of last year’s Spin Cycling Festival-goers thought so!
We’re promised a selection of limited edition silk screen prints at Spin, and beyond that you can catch Eliza and her work at a couple of shows coming up – the Affordable Art Fair in May with East London Printmakers, and a group show in Noverre Gallery in Norwich in June.
Furthermore, at May’s Spin Cycling Festival, you can meet a host of other bike-focused creatives including Beach O Matic, Cole Coatings workshop, Loopie Route, Massif Central, Occasional Human and Victory Chimp.