Friday, March 4, 2016

Portrait of the Artist as a Cycling Man

Raymond's Witcomb
We had agreed in the event of rain to bring the bicycle indoors - a plan to which the staff of the white-walled, spotlessly-carpeted gallery had proved surprisingly amenable. However, that morning the weather was good - miraculously, amazingly good. And as I cycled to the Flowerfield Centre - along idyllic, tree-lined cycle paths with views of verdant hills and sparkling azure waters - I hardly knew it was a steady 4 mile climb from the train station.

It isn't often that I venture out to Portstewart these days. But on this occasion it was worth it. For having heard of Raymond Kennedy's show, I was intrigued. A painter and a cyclist. And his subjectmatter struck a cord. Now we would meet, and I would see his work as well as one of his bikes. With the gallery light so stunning, we brought the bicycle inside despite the sunny outdoors. And now we marveled as it stood in light and shadow, surrounded by rows of paintings.

Raymond's Witcomb
Perhaps it was the name - Raymond. And the magnitude of his painterly opus. But I had expected a somber, somewhat formal, perhaps even aloof individual. Instead the Coleraine man I met was boyish in appearance, easygoing in demeanor, and light on his feet - with an air of someone who spends lots of time outdoors and perhaps does carpentry in his spare time (which he does, as it turns out).

He had not ridden his bicycle much over this winter, Raymond explains, following a leg injury in November. Today was his first day back in the saddle and he looks forward to more. But the silver lining to having been stuck in the house all that time was the finished body of work that was now on display all around us.

Raymond's Witcomb
To say that Raymond Kennedy is a landscape painter may be technically true, and yet it is somehow inaccurate. Closer to the mark might be to say that he paints particular types of things within the landscape, and he paints them in a particular way. His approach is unique, yet lacking in the sort of gimmicky stylisation that is encouraged in the artworld these days as a means of setting one's work apart.

In the series above, the same tree is depicted from 7 different vantage points, resulting in a thought-provoking examination of viewpoint and familiarity. These works especially appeal to me, because the type of crooked, permanently wind-swept tree they depict has fascinated me since I moved here (see: Taming Trees), and I myself am forever photographing and sketching them from various angles.

Raymond's Witcomb
One thing I find compelling about Raymond's paintings is that, while they look nearly photo-realistic from a distance, up close they are a mess of improbable squiggles, textures, and colours which do not look like they could possible form a recognisable, let alone natural-looking image.

Raymond's Witcomb
In a series of paintings depicting a tree-shaded river past which I have cycled many times, the water is laced with suspicious shades of lilac. It is a colour I myself remember observing when gazing into that water - then thinking I had imagined it. Where would such lilacs come from in a river that runs through a forest, all moss and sage and umber?

Raymond's Witcomb
Perhaps the lilac question occupied Raymond as much as it did me, because the bicycle he had arrived on was of this same delicate shade. He had consulted me as to which of his bikes to bring, and when he started listing them I stopped him at the Witcomb. I had never seen one in person. Yet, I'd heard much about the brand and thought that it would be of interest to others.

Raymond's Witcomb
An English builder of production and bespoke bicycle frames, Witcomb Cycles was in business from 1949 till 2009 and thrived best in the era of British Lightweights. But the company is doubly interesting for its US framebuilding connection: Some of the best-known and most influential American builders got their start at Witcomb - namely, Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, Chris Chance and Ben Serotta. Richard Sachs in particular writes about his time at Witcomb quite a lot. If you are interested in some detailed and entertaining personal accounts of the history of this connection I recommend browsing through his online diaries.

Raymond's Witcomb
Raymond's Witcomb bicycle is of 1978 vintage. Having dreamed of a lovely lightweight for several years prior, he had finally saved up for one and was deciding between Witcomb and Mercian. Just then an article appeared about Witcomb in one of the cycling magazines of the time - it was one of those full spread deals, with stunning, evocative photographs. And thus, Raymond's mind was made up. At the time, Dave Kane Cycles had just opened in Belfast and they were a Witcomb dealer. He was able to pick up his completed Reynolds 531 frame there, then get it built up with worthy components.

Raymond's Witcomb
Originally, the bicycle had been white, with red accents. For a couple of seasons Raymond raced it. He then used it as a commuter, all-arounder, and tourer - including on a "very memorable 6 week trip" with a friend who later documented it for an Irish newspaper.  Touring through continental Europe in 1984, they cycled through "such glamorous locations as Flanders, SW Germany, Alps, Dolomites, Venice, Florence, the Cote D'Azure, Monaco, Provence and up as far as Macon in France."  For this trip, the Witcomb was set up with different gears and wheels, and with Carradice panniers.

Later still Raymond drifted away from cycling and let the Witcomb languish, neglected. But thankfully, this state of affairs did not last. When Raymond rediscovered cycling with a new vigor, the Witcomb was not only retrieved from storage but treated to a makeover.

Raymond's Witcomb
By that point the bicycle was in rough shape, cosmetically, and so Raymond decided to get it repainted from scratch. Being - well, a painter - he undertook this process himself, using "2-pack paints and lacquer, and an awful lot of patience." He chose the lilac colour as a nod to the 1970s Witcomb racing team colour scheme (you can see what the original looked like here, and even buy this 57cm beauty from yr'man in Boston!), though chose a shade that was not exactly the same.

Personally, I think this bicycle looks so well in lilac and cream, I cannot imagine it in any other colour scheme. Beautiful job, and I regretted not having arrived on my own lilac Mercian to compare.

Raymond's Witcomb
The parts on Raymond's bike are originals, including the wheels he'd built himself. Painstakingly cleaned and polished, they components include:

Raymond's Witcomb
"a mid-'70s vintage Campagnolo Record group with Nuovo Record rear dérailleur stamped Pat. 77, 3ttt Gimondi bars and stem, Record hub wheels with Nisi 28 spoke rims, Vittoria tubular tyres, Maillard 5-speed block, quite rare Renold (not Reynolds!) chain, and a Brooks Team Pro saddle."

Raymond's Witcomb
The pedals and cable clips are original Campagnolo as well.

Raymond's Witcomb
Amazingly, even the original TA water bottles remain, well preserved.

Raymond's Witcomb
Raymond's life is different now than it was when the Witcomb had been first in use. He is married now and often cycles together with his wife (on individual bikes, as well as on tandem). And for the first time in his life has recently been able to work as a painter full-time, the exhibition we were now viewing a testament to how beneficial that has been for him. Most of the paintings on display are marked as sold, and I am tremendously pleased on his behalf.

Raymond's Witcomb
Discussing his work and his bikes, at length we left the hushed space of the gallery and coasted downhill as Raymond accompanied me to the train station. "My wife likes old French bikes," he mentions in passing. In turn, I reveal that "I know a guy," then proceed to corrupt him with information on where to acquire said type of bicycle for a bargain. And with this, I know that I will see Raymond again, if only to catch a glimpse of his paintings, and his other bicycles... including, some day - why not! - that gorgeous 1940s Frech mixte he will have restored for his wife, a work of art of another kind.



31 comments:

  1. Lovely pictures and portrait; a refreshing step into spring. Thank you. Jim Duncan

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  2. Very pretty bike. Looks like it even has old sew-ups to go along with the old Campy Record components. Nice.

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  3. Bike, photos and paintings all very nice.

    The room and light are amazing as well.

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  4. As I'm waiting for the page to load, I usually scroll through your posts to look at the pictures first. I was thinking to myself, "the light in that gallery is perfect for showing off that bike." Haha, guess everybody was thinking that.


    "I reveal that "I know a guy,""... Bike pusher!







    Wolf.

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  5. '...with pretty much everything Campagnolo (forgive me, but I forget which group)..."

    gruppo strada Nuovo Record. The shaping of the front derailleur cage and brake quick-release lever, results of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission meddling, date the gruppo consistent with the 1978 age of the frame.

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  6. That bike is stunning, and his pictures are beautiful and thought provoking. Oils, I'm assuming?

    And yep, the components are Nuovo Record. One design revision back from the componentry on a certain green Italian bike of which you know. Those things run forever with a little maintenance.

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    1. Oils on canvas and panel, yes. And did most of the framing himself.

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  7. My word. It must be so satisfying to be able to paint that well.

    I'm an instant and ardent fan of this Cat and I wonder what I would grab first if I burgled his house, a painting or a bike...

    Spindizzy

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  8. Seems an odd juxtaposition, and I don't know why. I'm also a painter and cyclist and this just seems weird.

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  9. Gorgeous photography of a truly beautiful bicycle. What a lovely blog report, thank you for sharing!

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  10. Absolutely typical and normal for a bike of the period. Perfectly presented and it all works.

    At least on my monitor it shows as a good bit more saturated than Witcomb Lilac. The Boston bike has the hue. Perhaps deeper to better stand up to those red bands. The luglining is a bit chunky, a bit casual, and that's perfect for a Witcomb.

    This bike is close enough to the bloghost's size I do hope a test ride is planned.

    Campagnolo Nuovo/Super Record is the closest thing the bicycle industry ever had to 'standard'. It was only from 1967 to 1983, but Campagnolo normal is still the only reference point to work from. The more time you spend with it the more you will see why we were so reluctant to ever give it up. Out of production for twice as long as it was in production and the spare parts are still more readily available than what those other jobbers will manage.

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  11. A very interesting story of the artist, his paintings and his bike - once again lovely photos - this bike is just beautiful, elegant, clean lines and your photography has really presented it so well.

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  12. A Witcomb frame for sale - closes 06 Mar, 2016 20:25:21 GMT - on eBay.UK in London. http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Witcomb-Frame-And-Forks-Single-Speed-Fixed-58cm-/281949632964?hash=item41a581f9c4:g:K68AAOSwzgRW1FxH ...as of this posting, the high bid is £1.20

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    1. Know anyone in London that might want to make a few bucks picking this up and shipping it to Virginia for me? I'm not in a hurry(and I never win these auctions anyway...).

      Spin

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    2. Darn, too big for my partner. (Still searching for a vintage bike for his birthday.)

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    3. Take a quick look at the brazing of the brake bridge. Look at the casual alignment of decals. This frame is worth all of one pound twenty. Unlikely it is even a practice piece from a new hand at Witcomb.
      Lots of vintage frames going very cheap. Keep looking.

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    4. I saw that big gap in the bridge too and agree it's not a Witcomb that Wiegle or Sachs ever touched, but if I could get it for $25 plus shipping it would have been nice. I'd have re-brazed that brake bridge at the same time I did a couple of other little jobs before re-painting it. You're right about there being lots of nice old frames out there but that just makes it worse when you WANT THEM ALL.

      I've always liked those Witcombs and it would have looked great when I got finished with it. It might have ridden as well as some that look better...

      Spindizzy

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    5. Looks like a one-piece bridge from a much later era grafted into an old frame.
      Wrinkled and bubbled stickers at odd angles over paint applied with a mop.
      Dark photos by someone who doesn't know what significant details a buyer would want to see.
      Worst of eBay. Only detracts from the lovely '78 shown above.

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  13. Striking paintings and a lovely bicycle. Hope he will come and exhibit in London one day ... I would love to see those paintings in person. He sounds like a really interesting person too. Thanks for the post, Velouria!

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  14. Your post was enjoyable in every way. Thank you.

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  15. I found this post to be one of your best...some wonderful pictures painted with both brush, words and camera

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    1. Thanks. Sometimes the subjectmatter just does the work for you.

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  16. wonderful post.
    where can i have a closer look at the paintings? is there an website of the artist or the gallery? thanks in advance for pointers.

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    1. Unfortunately the gallery took down the exhibition info once it ended.

      But I am told the artist website is in the works!

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  17. and Witcomb bought the business from his (retiring) employer, EA Boult. I have a 1952 EA Boult as a project. This restoration is supervised by the original owner.

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    1. Oh that is interesting. Have you got any pictures?

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  18. I came for the bike, but stayed for the story!

    I also think I'm about to lose an afternoon researching a new (to me) artist, thank you!

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  19. Love the art. Stunning bicycle.

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  20. Over 40 years since he was at Witcomb, Richard Sachs is still passing the torch around – witness this post just recently on the Velocipede Salon about pinning, as opposed to tacking, and fluxing joints. If you scroll down another few posts there’s a further elaborative post with photos:
    http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum/f55/what-effect-silver-flux-when-tacking-vs-pinning-joint-43819.html#post760838
    It’s the ‘nuances and interpretations’ that make the difference, I think. You can read it and understand it, visualize it and see the sense of it, and then you ask yourself how long it would take to learn it and you think, oh, about 40 years or so.

    There’s a photo on your Instagram account, taken at the Pyramid of Garvagh, of ‘Alice’, the frameset you built yourself with Mike Flanigan’s help, the bike you weren’t sure you’d ever build up but turned out to be ‘surprisingly bike-like’.
    https://www.instagram.com/p/7YIXWzj7m8/
    If you framed that photo with the same frame as Raymond’s paintings and put it up on the wall of the gallery, someone would have to look twice to notice that it wasn’t one of the paintings – it’s a perfect photo.

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  21. And here I am revisiting this post again. So good.

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