Car artists

Michael Turner

The Master

Photo credit: grandprixhistory.org, Michael Turner

Getting to know an artist can help you to understand their work. When you arrive at the cottage, 30 miles or so from London, where Michael Turner lives and works, you find yourself really entering his world, albeit not immediately, it has to be said. In fact, first of all, he and his wife give you a warm welcome in their elegant living room whose windows overlook a large garden in full bloom.

The style of Michael Turner is quite unmistakable in this illustration of the 1955 Monaco GP. The picture shows the Mercedes W196 driven by Stirling Moss ahead of Eugenio Castellotti’s Lancia D50, which came second. And just look where the photographers could stand back in those days!

Everything about it is perfect and quintessentially English, but as yet there is certainly no hint of this being an artistic setting. After a fine tea, we are told it is time to visit the studio. Should we take the car? No, all we need to do is go out through the back door and make our way over to a wooden pavilion, also very British-looking, situated beyond a white wooden fence. The style of the garden remains the same on the other side of the little gate that Turner opens with the ease of habit.

Turner did the sketches for his paintings at the trackside, like a photographer. This one shows Alberto Ascari in his last race for Lancia. The Milanese driver’s race came to an end when his car careered into the sea at the chicane. He escaped unscathed, but tragically lost his life at Monza the following week, at the wheel of a Ferrari 750 Sport

Thus far, we have been accompanied by his wife. But when we invite her to precede us through, Michael interjects firmly but kindly: “No, she can’t come in here, she doesn’t come to my studio!” And, in fact, at this point his wife, smiling, takes her leave and returns to the house. It is both fantastic and incredible. Turner’s world of cars and planes — he is as attached to these as he is to cars — is his, and his alone, open only to the few lucky customers who get to come and visit. We were there to order a couple of his paintings.

Four years later, Turner was back in Monaco watching Jack Brabham’s little Cooper win the GP ahead of Ferrari, consolidating its strong performance the previous year

At a very young age, Turner started creating paintings by drawing inspiration not from photographs but by attending races in person. He would take up a trackside position, just like photographers do, except that he would be sketching rather than snapping away. Thanks to this particular way of viewing racing, his works have a dynamism and realism that no photo could ever convey.

And this, of course, is the very essence of art: the ability to produce images that also convey the artist’s own sensations and perspective.

A picture that pays tribute to two great champions: Jackie Stewart, shown in a Tyrrell on his way to victory in the 1973 German GP at Nurburgring, and the artist who painted him, Michael Turner, unbeatable in his ability to convey the excitement of the GPs of that period

Looking at Michael Turner’s paintings, you even have the impression that you can hear the sound of the cars — all the noise that surrounded him as he sketched, in the sunshine or sheltering from the rain, his hands often freezing cold thanks to the inclement weather that is so common in England.

He has passed on this ability to “live” races to his son Graham, who is following in his footsteps, although we wouldn’t mind betting that even he is banned from the studio!

In this painting, the landscape of the Ardennes contrasts magnificently with the Ferrari and Vanwall, driven by Mike Hawthorn and Tony Brooks, doing battle at Spa-Francorchamps. Brooks won the GP and Hawthorn took the World Title