THE MOTORCYCLE ART OF JOHN LOWERSON

A little known artist has spent years capturing the glory of classic British trailbikes (and other classic machinery) in the heart of the British countryside...

There’s no earthly reason why you might have heard of 50-something-year-old John Lowerson - a forensic scientist working in Nottinghamshire NHS, but you have now. Heard of him, I mean… Because he’s the artist whose work you see here. And I feel so strongly about his artwork I believe it deserves a wider audience.

Even if you move in arty circles (we don’t),  the chances are you probably won’t have come across this quiet and rather unassuming artist hailing from the north of England. To be honest I hadn’t heard of him either until afew years ago when I happened across one of his paintings whilst browsing the web. But such was the impression that his work made on me that I immediately bought the picture and (with permission)  used it in RUST.

What struck me about that painting was the way that it plugged straight into my inner feelings as a trail rider, evoking fond memories of my childhood, the countryside and all that I hold dear. Lovely classic dirtbike… Check! Pictured in the heart of the beautiful British countryside… Check! Typical English weather and mixed light… Check!

That last point is perhaps the one that marks out John’s work for me. Because instead of painting pictures of bikes under dazzling blue skies, on achingly clear days or with jaw-dropping sunsets, the majority of John’s pictures depict his subject matter illuminated by the hazy, misty, soft light so typical of the British climate. As he explains…

‘The light is possibly as much a part of the subject for me as the vehicle in it’  he says. ‘I try to describe the light conditions throughout each of my paintings… for instance 2012 was a wet summer and the paintings made during that time reflect this.’

Certainly when you look at John’s art you get the impression that he’s not just painting what he sees, he’s also painting from the heart, because as he explains, his paintings ‘evoke a memory of something nostalgic.’  So where did this love of British machinery originally stem from I asked him? ‘I grew up painting pictures of aeroplanes’  he reveals. ‘my Dad was in the RAF piloting Lancasters in 1944-45. 

‘Back then all the servicemen rode motorbikes, this being the cheapest way you could get a family around. Inevitably dad had an [ex-war Department] BSA M21, and after the war an A10 Golden Flash. We had a two-seat Busmar sidecar which could accommodate the whole family: mum and dad on the bike, and two kids in the sidecar - often with a trailer-full of camping gear in tow. It was all heavyweight stuff as well [canvas tents with wooden poles], and of course this was mainly pre-motorway days.

‘A weekend activity for the family might typically be a trip to the Yorkshire moors. I think more by chance than design we invariably came across a motorcycle trial whilst we were there.

‘As a child I took in this image - the smell, the sound and the landscapes completely - and I loved it. The motorcyclists seemed really experienced to me - though they were probably only in their early twenties - but they were knowledgeable, polite and humorous to an impressionable little boy. Checked shirts and waders were the get-ups of the time. The bikes would’ve been Greaves, Dot, Excelsior, maybe a Tiger Cub or two, and some of them had sidecars.

‘This must’ve stuck with me to the point that I felt that bikes naturally belong in this environment. This countryside was empty, rugged and great for a young person’s adventure. And whether it was the crackling exhaust notes bouncing off the stone walls, or just playing in the many rocky streams that the bikes had been through, I loved it.’

Aside from his father’s motorcycles, bikes have repeatedly featured in John’s life - as a student he thrummed about on a Honda C50 and that was replaced by a sportier Yamaha RD200 ‘with a reed valve!’  A couple of 650cc Triumphs followed as well as a Bultaco Sherpa. ‘How much nicer would that have felt if I hadn’t had use it for long distance commuting?’

But perhaps the oddest bike John’s owned is his firm favourite - a 650cc flat-twin Cossack Dneper with reverse gear and a steel sidecar attached. ‘That was certainly a green laner’ he admits, adding ‘and it excelled at Pennine journeys. I loved that thing. It made very little difference to the performance whether driven as a solo or as an outfit, but driving a sidecar is a marvelous experience and can only be recommended to all your readers who haven’t tried it yet.’

Though John eventually sold the outfit, you can tell from his paintings that he has oil coursing through his veins. ‘I don’t own a motorcycle at the moment, haven’t done in years. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the subject matter I paint is chosen subconsciously to fill that gap for me. The bikes and cars are really from an era that appeals to me. Back then machinery was just that: mechanical, functional, practical. Little attempt was made by the manufacturers to hide that fact.

‘And despite the inevitable limitations of painting in watercolour, the accuracy of the depicted subject matter is important to me. Not to the point where you need to count the rivets on a steam engine’s smoke-box, but I do feel it is important for a viewer to easily recognise the vehicle involved.’ Though as John admits, no matter how accurate his paintings… ‘they can never quite describe that feeling of when your knees are so cold you can hardly walk… or your hands don’t function after a long winter’s ride.’

John’s watercolours have sold in various countries around the world, but because he’s not a ‘recognised’ artist (though he did train in art and design and has a Masters in Fine Art),  his work goes for sensible money. If you like the look of anything you see here, most of it is still for sale and at sensible prices (at the timethink approx £125-175 for a painting, it could be higher by now, and certainly deserves to be...). John is also happy to do commissions and paint an owner’s pride and joy so that the owner gets a unique painting of his exact vehicle ‘with the number plate clearly visible.’

I’ll be honest here guys, although I like a nice painting as much as the next bloke, you wouldn’t really call me artsy… Well not to my face, anyway. But John’s pictures move me, and not just because he paints pictures of motorcycles. Because frankly, most motorcycle and motorsport art leaves me cold… I really can’t stand it - way too schmaltzy for my liking.

But to me there’s something intensely moving about John’s art. It sums up in a single image all that is best about the British countryside: bleak, beautiful, and built for trail bikes. What’s not to like…?

PS It's been a while since this feature was first printed, and we're not sure if John is still painting, although that kind of thing never goes away... If you're interested in comissioning a picture from him contact the magazine andrew.riley@rustsports.com and we'll do our best to put you in contact with him. No promises mind...

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