Motoring art: John Parkin

| 25 Apr 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

Be it astronauts, stunt performers or famous Grand Prix aces, John Parkin’s portraits capture the moments of drama in colourful style.

Movies have often inspired him, and it was the 1969 release Winning, with Paul Newman and Robert Wagner, that sparked his first motorsport portrait.

“Eyes have always captivated me,” says John. “Newman’s vivid blue stare inside that Bell helmet is iconic.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

James Hunt, as portrayed by artist John Parkin, who uses his work to capture the emotions of motorsport legends

That painting led to a series of leading Grand Prix stars, starting with Jim Clark.

“With open-face helmets you can really study the emotion of the moment,” he adds.

The collection quickly expanded with portraits of Jackie Stewart, François Cevert, Ronnie Peterson, Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

“There’s something special about that era,” John continues.

“Modern Formula One just doesn’t inspire. The expressions are hidden under reflective visors and advertising.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

Barry Sheene’s 1975 Daytona crash was commissioned by The Prodigy frontman Keith Flint

John comes from a farming family in Yorkshire, which gave him the opportunity to learn to drive at a very young age.

“I loved piloting a Land-Rover around the farm’s fields and always enjoyed tinkering with machinery,” he recalls.

“My first car was a Ford Escort Mk1, bought for £25.

“From an early age I loved painting, and my folks always encouraged me to do something different.

“Art was the only thing I was good at, and my foundation course at Selby art school was fantastic.

“We had a great tutor by the name of Roger Silvestri, who was a real character. Everything was new and exciting, which I relished.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

Niki Lauda is one of the F1 heroes John Parkin has produced portraits of

After finishing a fine art degree in 2000, John focused on painting with a series of works inspired by astronauts: “The moon landings captured my imagination and I collected lots of space material, which developed into a collection of big paintings.

“The close-up expressions of those heroic astronauts hooked me.”

Following his astronomy-themed artworks, John moved on to Land Speed Record legends and portraits of Donald Campbell.

“As a boy I could hear the drag racing at nearby Elvington Airfield and visits there fired my enthusiasm,” he recalls.

“I never wanted to just draw cars, but the characters of the drivers gripped me.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

Jackie Stewart wears his tartan-striped helmet in this painting by John Parkin

The theme of speed continued with motorcycle racing, which led to a commission from Keith Flint of The Prodigy.

“Barry Sheene was a hero of his, and he wanted a painting of his 175mph Daytona crash,” says John.

“He sent me a black-and-white photo, which I worked up into a colour painting.

“It made a powerful composition.

“His return after such a shocking accident took special resolve.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Parkin

This artwork, titled Zig Zag Sputnik, is one of John Parkin’s many astronaut-inspired paintings

In John’s Newcastle studio, a diverse group of heroes features in his recent paintings.

As well as a new series of astronaut-inspired works, he’s become fascinated by American oval flat-track stars, including ‘King’ Kenny Roberts.

“To win the AMA Grand National Championship you had to master both dirt tracks and road racing,” he says.

“Roberts was fearless on his underpowered Yamahas and makes a spectacular subject.”

Following in the tradition of British pop artists such as Gerald Laing, there’s a good chance we will one day see John’s Grand Prix aces, space travellers and speed royalty in fine art galleries.

John Parkin’s work is available at Apart Gallery, 133-137 Westbourne Grove, London; see


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