Motoring art: Stuart Booth

| 22 May 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

Engineers who paint are a rare breed, but this combination of talents gives Stuart Booth’s work a special dynamic.

As a result of his background as an aircraft structural specialist working on Concorde, his subjects really look as if they work.

“I fancied myself as a race-car designer,” says Stuart.

“My home drawing board was full of designs for complex Formula One engines, but my application to join Lotus got nowhere.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

Ronnie Peterson slides the JPS Lotus 72 at Monaco

Stuart worked at Thornton Aviation, where he witnessed Concorde’s first flight and its last.

When he was offered voluntary redundancy in the ’80s, he decided to go full-time as an artist.

“I had always produced drawings and paintings,” he says.

“My subjects included aviation, marine and rail, but motorsport remained my main inspiration.

“George Oliver’s illustrations in The Racing Car: Development & Design were a key reference, while Michael Turner was a big influence on me.

“I also admire Alfredo de la Maria’s style and sometimes try to copy his technique for moving wheels.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

Master of Spa artwork depicts Tony Brooks in the Vanwall (closest) and Roy Salvadori in the Cooper-Climax at La Source hairpin

Stuart drew from an early age, and while at grammar school he enjoyed art club: “My first car was an MG TC before I switched to a Mini Cooper.”

Colour blindness eventually frustrated his ambition to learn to fly, but it was never a handicap for his painting.

Watching the 1954 British Grand Prix on a black-and-white TV set ignited the interest in motorsport.

“Graham Hill was an early hero, but Jim Clark was on a different level,” Stuart remembers.

“Colin Chapman was another favourite, and complex engines such as the BRM H16 really fascinated me.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

John Surtees races his MV Agusta 500/4 at the 1957 Isle of Man TT in this artwork by Stuart Booth

“After a move to Bristol for my work, Castle Combe became the local circuit,” he continues.

“The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was a highlight, but I now find most modern race tracks too bland.

“I am happiest painting F1 and sports-car racing from the ’50s through to the ’80s, but I’ll happily tackle any era – current projects include the 1957 Pescara GP and the 2023 Singapore GP.

“Often, discovering a famous racer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed will inspire me.

“The spectacular Ferrari 315 set me off with a Mille Miglia composition, but big crowds are frustrating.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 leads the 1967 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Locations are as key to Stuart’s compositions as their main subjects.

“A sense of time and place is important,” he says.

“In the competition paintings I try to capture the speed, power and drama, but there is a tension between achieving accuracy and atmosphere.

“As an engineer, the details of a vehicle are important and I need to understand the construction, including in the ‘dark’ areas, such as intakes, that don’t register well in photos.

“Then, just when I think I’ve captured the car’s details and character, I mess things up by selectively blurring and smudging edges.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: Stuart Booth

The 1957 Ford Thunderbird and ’64 Shelby GT350 give this painting a Beach Boys vibe

“Backgrounds in my earlier works were perhaps a bit too detailed, which made the result look static; now I aim for a more Impressionist style,” he explains.

Initially, Stuart worked with watercolours before switching to acrylics, but now oils are his main medium.

“I love the lustre of the finish, and the slower drying time is ideal for building up the composition.

“Thankfully, my wife has got used to the smell!”

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