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Stroke of genius: The racing art of Rob Ijbema

Submitted by on March 6, 2013

Brabham BT45

“Painting is like time travel,” says prolific Dutch artist Rob Ijbema. In a sport measured in thousandths of a second, where speed is king, it’s strange yet fitting that some traditions still exist today – long before the car was even dreamt of.

By Andy Hallbery and Rob Ijbema

Rob Ijbema’s work rate is phenomenal. Following are just 10 of his favourite motorsport paintings (“but ask me tomorrow and they will be 10 different ones”), and this is just scratching his acrylic surface. Add in the thousands of pictures of the Tour de France and other cycling events – his other love – and you start to form your own opinion of what makes him tick. Begin with “wheels” and “colour” and you have made a start.

1906 Renault, acrylic on canvas 20” x 30”

1906 Renault

Where it all began. The French Grand Prix, 1906 and Hungarian Ferenc Szisz, the former riding mechanic, started the record books by becoming the winner of the first Grand Prix.

“The old pioneer races are so exciting to paint,” explains Ijbema. “There is beautiful scenery, the power and the dust. All that nostalgia inspires my brushes.”

1975 Monaco, acrylic on canvas 20” x 30”

1975 Monaco

The streets of the Principality become a rich man’s playground for almost one week per year. How many multi-millionaires stroll around posing with a camera around their neck, yet never take a photo?

“I watched Monaco on TV when I was very young,” remembers Rob. “It really captured my imagination. It’s a spectacle you can really only comprehend when you are finally actually there.

“In 1987 I painted my own pass and got everywhere…! At night I was sleeping in the caves up on the hills, then during the day selling my work by the yachts in the harbour – crazy times. Monaco is so intense, all these colours and shapes hustling for position, the contrasts and smoke… And so easy for drivers to lose it.”

1971 Ford Capri, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

1971 Ford Capri

Even in the very early 1970s, over-powered and over-tyres muscle cars caught everyone’s imagination. Ford’s Capri RS2600, Alfa Romeo GTAm, BMW CSL, Escort BDAs and so on slid and bounced their way into any youngster’s imagination – and the superstars listed to drive them helped too.

“I’m from the 70s and the big slicked Capris and the others were so cool back them,” Rob laughs, “especially when they were driven by Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Jochen Mass and Francois Cevert.”

1950s Mille Miglia, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

1950s Mille Miglia

Some events that took place before we were born defy belief for us. I mean, honestly, did the Mille Miglia endurance really happen at average speeds of close to one hundred mph on public roads for over 10 hours? It sounds – and was – lethal. But the camera, or in this case the paint brush, never lies, and easily set Ijbema’s juices running.

“The old road races for sure had plenty of drama for painting action,” he says. “I love trying to catch that speed on paper and I will never get enough of painting red cars! This is Eugenio Castellotti in the red and yellow Ferrari. He won in 1956. This painting is just about the car and the speed. Then that event can also give you a lot of atmosphere – the tifosi going crazy, with blurry colours tearing through the scenery. At times I love trying to catch all of that too.”

Gilles Villenueve , acrylic on canvas 20” x 30 ”

Gilles Villenueve

Sometimes a picture can say it all and set the mind flowing with memories. One such subject is “Gilles Villeneve”.

Ibjema: “All that emotion,” Rob reflects. “I was there at Zolder in 1982, and the evening there was so eerie and quiet. Racing fans were just wandering around in disbelief, like zombies.”

2012 Kimi Raikkonen, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

Kimi Raikkonen

In theory, a largely black racing car should not be a thing of beauty or art. That is where Lotus rewrote the ‘logic’ books in the early 1970s with the legendary JPS colours, and the team revisited the black and gold pallet for its 2011 challenger and beyond. The team’s colour ‘comes’ from its maverick driver, Kimi Raikkonen.

“Modern cars are just as interesting as the old ones,” says Ijbema. “It is just those modern tracks that are bland! But that gives me a good excuse to get close up, right into the action of the motion… Thank God for characters like Kimi coming back in 2012.”

1978 Dutch Grand Prix, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

1978 Dutch Grand Prix

Do you remember your first time? Budding artist Rob Ijbema recalls his one, and the start of thoughts of a career behind the easel.

“Easy,” he answers quickly. “It was the first time I managed to get into the pits. This was at Zandvoort – it was a doddle to get into the pits back then. As a little boy standing next to those beautiful John Player Specials, I had no chance but to get totally hooked.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

Dale Earnhardt Sr

‘The Intimidator’ as he was known lived up to his name both on and off the track. NASCAR’s biggest star had a reputation to maintain. Very simply it was: “Don’t mess with me.” Sr dressed the part as well, the Man in Black with the  wrap-around shades was a firm fan favourite for all of those reasons.

“I don’t often paint faces,” explains Rob. “But his face must be the meanest I have painted!”

Brabham BT45, acrylic on paper 8” x 12”

Brabham BT45

Like Colin Chapman before and Adrian Newey since, Gordon Murray was an innovator who designed beautiful, yet race-winning cars. The BT45 with is unique air intakes, may not have been one of the South African’s biggest success stories, but it was put to good use in the hands of Carlos Pace. The machine also starred in the film Bobby Deerfield ‘driven’ by Al Pacino.

“Brabhams designed by Gordon Murray are the most gorgeous,” Rob admits. ”I like to give suggestions when painting… The viewer is not stupid and by filling in the details in their minds themselves they get involved with the picture too.”

1965 Monte Carlo Rally, acrylic on paper 8” x 12″

1965 Monte Carlo Rally

Rallying isn’t something that features regularly as a topic for Ijbema – which is strange when you think of the backdrops and wonderful panoramas that lend themselves to his style of art. When he does tackle the subject, the outcome is predictably spectacular, as this painting of the Mini Cooper on the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid-1960s shows.

“I wanted this one to be based on an image with a 1960s Mini Cooper,” says Rob. “The atmosphere is all there and I wanted to catch that – the crowd on the hillside in the snow watching with small campfires. There is lots of passion, the fans have been there all day, up in the hills in the cold, just for a small glimpse of the car.”

Rob Ijbema: “I know these are just blobs of paint – but they are just the right blobs of paint… Details slow you down”

Paintings: Rob Ijbema, car-a-day.blogspot.com

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