We at VeloVoices love when people have the panache to pursue their passions and share their talents. Mark Fairhurst is one of those people. Mark has only been producing artwork since August 2012 but he’s already developing a style that harks back to the great cycling prints and poster of the Art Deco era, as well as developing a fan base through Twitter. Mark’s work gives a nod to tradition and affirms his passion and understanding of the sport we love, so I thought it appropriate to sit down and have a chat with him. (All illustrations © Mark Fairhurst.)
Panache: Thanks for taking the time to talk to VeloVoices. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been an illustrator/artist? Was this something you have always wanted to be?
Mark: In my present guise, not very long! I have been a professional photographer since 1980, I started out in 1980 as a studio photographer for an advertising agency – BMW, Dunhill and Wilkinson Sword were some of our clients. Then I started to make a name for myself in portraiture – celebrities, royalty, et cetera – working for some pretty prestigious magazines. However, with the financial crash in 2008, there was a dramatic cut in my workflow – it almost disappeared overnight!
I was limping along until the London 2012 Olympics in August. I started fooling around on the Mac one evening, creating some Art Deco-style images – cyclists, athletes, that kind of thing. I had also just been introduced to Twitter by a friend and on the third day of the Olympics, I tweeted a couple of images and it went nuts! People started asking where they could buy them.
I had a dormant website that my partner miraculously got operational that same night and once I alerted tweeters to it, sales started right there and then! If it hadn’t been for Twitter, work deprivation and a great group of followers, it would never have happened. The future is looking pretty good right now. I’m selling to the UK, USA and Australia – mainly cycling-themed images as it seems cyclists are pretty appreciative of my work.
Panache: Clearly your style harks back to another age. Tell me, what art or artist inspires you and how are you developing your artistic voice?
Mark: I love the Art Deco period in history. The designs were simple but very striking, which suits my style. I always loved the old railway, motor racing and sports posters of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. You have to imagine the excitement these images would have created in a time when there was no electronic gadgetry to send them around the world. The posters must have been like looking into another world entirely – the artists were the eyes for the world! I try to instil that feeling of emotion, wonderment, passion and drama into my images. Cycling lends itself very well to this approach as there is a great respect for heritage in sport, especially in cycling. I hope my work bridges the different eras.
Panache: You clearly have an understanding of cycling. Many of your images contain themes like Paniagua, Flamme Rouge, Bonking, and others that tell me you participate in or follow the sport closely. Tell me about your passion for cycling.
Mark: I never had the chance or dedication to get into cycling as a competitive thing, but I try and ride as often as I can. I have taken part in sportives and did the Étape du Tour in 2005, which nearly killed me! I’m not a climber, much to my disappointment. I think I really started getting interested in the ‘higher end’ of the sport quite late in life, with the coverage of the 1998 Tour de France. I lived in Cornwall and trained with a couple of Navy guys who were triathletes and they really sparked my interest in it. Having said that, although my participation has been small compared to other riders, the experiences I have had help me to appreciate what cyclists go through, which in turn goes into producing my themed images.
Panache: So who are your favorite racers past and present and which races do you love to watch?
Mark: Gosh! Difficult one, as there are so many. One has to tip one’s hat to Maurice Garin, first winner of the Tour de France. Then Coppi, Merckx. Anyone who puts himself through what the pros do is truly heroic. It’s just a great shame that, as in life in general, one or two spoil the game for not only fellow participants, but for the fans too. I was a great fan of Armstrong and followed many parts of the Tour for about five years because of him. I wouldn’t mind a refund!
These days, I am a big fan of Wiggo. He seems just a normal, down-to-earth guy who gets on with his cycling and life. His Tour win in 2012 was just magical. The Tour is close to my heart. Things going well, I hope to see and experience the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta and many others. I think there is tons of imagery to come out of my head for a while yet. I just need that first-hand experience and my work will help create the funds to do just that, hopefully.
Panache: You’ve been involved with some important philanthropy with your art. Tell us about it and how important it is to you.
Mark: I’ve always gone through life with the notion that it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice. People do need help from time to time. I’m by no means rich but I can help through my work. Last year, I was asked to display my Olympic work at the Trafalgar Hotel in London and I was featured in the Metro newspaper – a great opportunity! It turned out that the hotel was around the block from where I used to work for the late great Bobby Moore. I suggested to the hotel that after the exhibition all of the artwork should be donated to the Booby Moore Cancer Fund so they could be auctioned. The charity managed to get various Olympic stars to sign them and framed them and the first six prints raised an amazing £5,000 and it was the highest and fastest bid lot of the night. I was totally astounded – I thought they might go for £1,000 or £1,500 at most! Four more prints will be sold in Manchester in February, so I hope they will go for similar amounts. I hope I can do more things like this in the future.
Panache: So many of your prints speak to me directly. The one entitled ‘Typical’ depicts a shower head over a solitary rider – it feels like it’s a portrait of me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out and I’m the only one who gets rained on! Tell me more about that one.
Mark: That’s a favourite of mine too! I love Jacques Tati’s sense of comedy and I could imagine him doing this in one of his great films. I was out one day a while back and there was a group of cyclists huddling together in a pretty mean localised rain shower. The sun was shining everywhere except on them! How many times have you been caught out and try to chase the sun, only to be continually pursued by your own private shower!?
Panache: Another one that seems to be an illustration of my life is the print of the two riders looking in the bike shop window: ‘One Day’. I love bikes and can’t own enough of them but then there’s the Dream Bike, the one that I hope to own one day. Do you feel the same?
Mark: I think we all do! I have five, and many more in my head! I can remember looking into the window of a bicycle shop near my gran’s house when I was eight. There was a greeny-bluey racing bike, so a Bianchi! The sun was on my back, the noise of the cars suddenly disappeared as I went into dream mode racing down some country road somewhere on that bike. That’s the memory that inspired this image. We’ve all been there!
Panache: All right, enough about my favorites. Tell me about a couple of your favorites and which one has been the most popular.
Mark: That is an unfair question! All of my images have a bit of me in them because of an experience or a future hope. Therefore, I don’t have a favourite as they are all my favourite. Does that make sense? It’s a bit like a father expecting a child! There’s the courting of ideas in my head – the sketch pad is the conception. The finishing touches on computer and the final print is the birth. What person doesn’t love their offspring?! As for the most popular, all so far. One may have sold a few more than others, but it seems I have quite an appreciative clientele out there. It seems what I do quite naturally caters for a very wide audience.
Panache: So tell us what’s next for you.
Mark: Who knows! I have recently completed a launch poster for the Madison Genesis under-23 racing team. Madison contacted me not long after my London show and they told me what they had in mind. The speed at which they instigated the project was incredible. If their team performs that quickly, they will do very well! Some of my work will also be on show – and for sale – on Madison’s stand at the London Bike Show in mid-January, which was beyond my wildest dreams so early into this ‘project’. There is much more I want to do, but slowly, slowly, catchy monkey.
Panache: We look forward to seeing more from you but now is your chance to plug! Where can our readers find your work and learn more about you?
Mark: All my work is sold through www.zeitgeistimages.co.uk. Should things really take off then wholesale might happen. At the moment, though, I am maintaining a good personal service through the site. I’m a great believer in being approachable to people and offering a great service and a unique product.
Panache: Thanks very much for talking to us, Mark. Every success for 2013!