Former Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) recently retweeted a beautiful painting of himself. It’s the work of Sarah Halliday, an English artist who rediscovered her love of painting in the south of France. Here’s her story and a selection of her work which clearly articulates her passion for cycling.
— Sarah Halliday (@sarahallidayart) 27 Janvier 2014
Sheree: I’m assuming you loved all forms of art from an early age? Who or what first prompted you to start painting?
Sarah: I’m not sure, really, but it’s something I always did as far back as I can remember. As a child, my brother spent a lot of time in hospital and I spent a lot time in waiting rooms just sitting and drawing. Much to my mother’s delight, I didn’t get bored with all the hanging around. Also, my grandmother was an artist and she always encouraged me to draw.
Sheree: I love that riding around the South of France rekindled your love of painting and encouraged you to pick up your brush again. How did that happen?
Sarah: My husband and I moved over to France in 2006 to start a training camp business. He’d come third in a big race and won the use of a bike for a year. As he had lots of bikes, he ordered one my size, gave it to me and told me to start riding. I couldn’t complain as it was a top of the range Trek Madone. I didn’t appreciate this until I had to give it back!
I was actually quite shocked by how much I loved cycling. But it was my love affair with the countryside that motivated me to get on my bike and ride. This way I got to see so much more of the Pyrenees.
My husband brought me back a set of paints from a business trip to Madrid. I hadn’t painted since leaving school at 18. A few days later, I painted the lovely view from our terrace. I started painting landscapes until my husband, Mark, introduced me to competitive racing and then the Tour de France. The landscapes went out of the window and all I wanted to do was paint the Tour.
Sheree: When did you do your first cycling-related picture?
Sarah: I called my first painting Tour de France and I painted it around 2007.
Sheree: What was it about the Tour you found so inspiring?
Sarah: It stemmed from my own experiences of racing. It just seemed such a hard, brutal yet exhilarating sport. I have never been as tired in my life as I was after my first race. I’m sure most people who have done the odd sportive have wondered if they are ever going to get over the last climb and to the finish. To me Tour riders were like Spartan warriors, I just thought they were so incredibly tough, and wanted to portray this in a series of paintings.
Sheree: You mention on your site that you’re now being mentored by Christopher Fiddes. How has this helped your work and style to evolve?
Sarah: Chris (a cyclist himself) has had a huge impact on my work. He understood what I was trying to do in my early work and introduced me to the idea of painting a whole range of emotions and not just someone winning or losing. As such my paintings became more about the riders themselves, and their relationships with each other.
He also brushed up my technical ability as, being self-taught, I had no real knowledge about composition, perspective, tone and painting techniques. I actually didn’t realise there were a set of rules to follow, I just used to paint what I saw.
Sheree: You work only in oils – why?
Sarah: I prefer the depth of colour – very rich and vibrant. I also love the fact that oils take ages to dry and allow me to really manipulate the paint on the canvas. In addition, you can get some really good scumbing techniques going when the oils are tacky. I should explain, this is where you drag a brush over tacky paint. The effect is like distressed wood in need of a coat of paint.
Sheree: Do you have a favourite race(s) and rider(s)?
Sarah: I love all the grand tours, mainly because they are like mini soap operas played out over three weeks. I get so much inspiration from just one race. I confess I love painting Alberto Contador as he rides with so much passion. I can always find images of him that have very dramatic and exaggerated body movements. Bradley Wiggins has also provided me with plenty of inspiration over the past couple of years. He has a very distinctive look too which, from an artist’s perspective, is always good.
Sheree: Do you reproduce what you see from a televised race or is it something from your mind’s eye?
Sarah: It’s a bit of a mixture. For example, my current painting of 2012 Vuelta, Venga Venga, is more about the excitement of the race itself and the epic battle between Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez. I am trying to capture the impression the race left on me as a spectator. So I use photographs, video footage and life drawings to work out the composition. For example, this was the initial sketch for Venga Venga.
In my earlier works, I used to paint directly onto the canvas but now I first paint the canvas in two colours, raw umber and white (underpainting). This allows me to change anything that I think may not work. You will notice the difference between the sketch and the underpainting, i.e. section on the left.
Sheree: I really liked that painting and thought it beautifully captured the combative nature of the two Spanish riders. Apart from Venga, Venga which are your other favourite works and why?
Sarah: My favourite painting is King or Courtier because I was trying to capture much more than just a race. It is more of a metaphor than literal so I had to get a few people to sit for me, to translate my idea on to the canvas.The painting is about ego and the limitations within which these riders operate. There can only be one victor, however, it’s not as simple as the best rider winning.
My second favourite painting is Reconciliation. This was the first non-literal painting I did. It was very difficult to portray the riders’ faces which were taken from lots of different photos. It’s all about Vincenzo Nibali accusing Bradley Wiggins of not respecting his rivals.
My third favourite painting is Carnage. Again, it was incredibly hard to get right. I had a serious perspective issue with the group of riders on the left-hand side and it took me three attempts until I was happy with it but I learnt a lot from doing this one.
My fourth favourite is The Contenders, mainly because it won ‘The People’s Favourite’ in a mixed exhibition. I was really pleased as there was some stiff competition and it was the only sports-related painting there.
Sheree: Do you have any forthcoming exhibitions or particular cycling-related projects that you can share with our readers?
Sarah: I have to submit three works for an exhibition in October so, hopefully, one will get picked. I am also just about to start an exciting new work which will depict Sky’s victory last year in an unusual way. If you are interested in finding out how it progresses, follow me on Facebook or Twitter as I always post my progress on there. There are links to this from my website. Hopefully it will be ready by the time the Tour starts in July. Yes, the paintings really do take that long to complete!
If you’ve enjoyed Sarah’s works as much as we have, check out her website where you can buy her oil paintings and limited edition prints, plus find out more about her work via Twitter @sarahhallidayart or Facebook.