Fine Art: Michael Turner

Michael Turner



In this series we have looked at many artists and the genre with it’s recording of the history of motor sport from many angles.

In this study of Michael Turner we can be very contemporary. Michael’s work spans the zenith of the Lotus era and in much of his work Lotus is featured. This is not just FI but sports racing cars as well. We are fortunate to have many of his prints in the A&R archive.

In this article the editor is able to incorporate an extended book review of Michael’s work from: Formula One: The Cars and Drivers*

This article might be best-enjoyed following reference to A&R piece on artist’s materials and drawing techniques.

Brief Biographical Detail

Michael Turner was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1934. As a child he might have watched the Battle of Britain fought out in the sky over London. He seems to have developed an early artistic observation that found expression in aircraft recognition.

His interest in motor sport might have started in his teens around the age of 13 as a result attending a motor sport event. There after he regularly attended races at Goodwood and Silverstone.

Michael’s formal artistic training included Art College and then practical experience following National Service. He worked in London that of course would be the centre for commercial art linked to magazines, publishing, the theatre and museums etc not forgetting the rapidly developing post war role in motor sport. Some of his earliest work appeared in the “Motor “ in 1955. It’s believed that Michael may have contributed to BARC Gazette and the Steering Wheel Club. In 1956 he undertook a commission from Esso. In 1957 he went freelance.

Michael holds a Private Pilots Licence. He has travelled the world to experience racing first hand. He has mingled at all levels and caught many of the behind the scenes images.

He is Honory Fellow of the Guild of Motoring Artists.

Michael has accepted commissions from a wide source public, private, museums and collectors.

He has held exhibitions around the world. The most recent with Graham Turner at Halton House, April 2010.

Michael has been involved with six books on motoring and aviation art, one of which is featured in his article.

He is a family man with three children.

Michael has an International reputation for his vivid, distinctive gouache studies. His work and composition is frequently from unique perspectives. The editor particularly likes those “seen from the cockpit” which allow the viewer to participate; and be in the thick of the action.

Observations of sketches from “Formula One Drivers and Cars”

This book covers GP racing from 1950.The year of the first World Championship. Roebuck provides interviews and impressions of drivers.

The editor has elected a commented on the graphic vivid and authentic snatched glimpses that demonstrate the artists formidable “short hand”

P.18 Mike Hawthorne –Cooper Bristol

For many the technical ability to sketch is the apprenticeship to painting. Note only does it provide the basic notation and accurate depiction. It takes the artist into composition, observation and the ability to use contrast to model form.
The editor would suggest Michael Turner would be a lesser artist if he could not draw.

In this one cameo sketch, Hawthorn’s personality, driving style and cars handling characteristics are caught and frozen to perfection.

On occasions the editor would suggest the Michaels Turners drawing exceed his painting.
This is quite and exception work of art. With a pencil question how do you separate and portray black and dark green. It’s only with mastery of control and discipline that these nuisances are achieved.

P.20 1953 FI. Gordini

In many respects Michael Turner is a draughtsman of minimalism. A mechanic sits on the front wheel of the car making repairs. Not a lot shown but speaks volumes in what is conveyed. He can really work the pencil. Witness contrast in half oval of radiator. Note the bars not actually drawn these are formed by the shading within.

P.23 Jan Manuel Fangio

What body language, what a snap shot of a moment’s reflection. Pencil used to perfection captures man, mod and machine.

P.46 Mike Hawthorne –pits at Monza

Oh what a sketch. What subtle variations in tone exacted from a pencil. What animation it’s almost moving in its suggestion of action. Hawthorn is seen jesturlating with hands and the conversation can almost be overheard. The heavy deep black oval of the radiator opening leads eye into the overall composition.

P.66 Graham Hill

An informal moment, Graham hill adjusts his goggles. Simply an upper body portrait but Tuner once again uses the paper to do magic. Why colour when it’s provided? The paper provides the material for the overall, the pencil shades the creases.

P.97 Matra V12

The editor would simply suggest this drawing be compared with Peter Hutton. In this sketch Turner has captured the diverse surfaces and material of the car only using the contrast of the pencil density. Consummate.

P.140 Arturio Merzario-“Little Art”

A racing driver is shielded under an umbrella. Here not so much the drawing but artist’s ability to leave out. The white paper is used to effect to suggest gloss smooth shiny surfaces. Michael’s observations and translation is special as is rendering of body language. An essentially symmetrical composition given balance with subtle barely discernable off centre shift.

P.151 Six wheel Tyrrell

Included because of editors weakness for machinery. Partial detail of Six wheel Tyrrell. Drawing executed with diametric contrast of just outline set against suspension detail revealed against deep shadow.

P.162 James Hunt’s Mc Laren.

A pencil sketch of mastery and subtlety, lightest of touch minimum of contrast accept for spots of darkest shadow in radiator wheels and drivers helmet visor. Wonderful rendition of mechanic and folds in overalls merely using shading.

Description of Selected Paintings from the Book.

P82.1966 Belgium GP: Surtees and Rindt

In this compositing Surtees and Rindt are seen side by side as they enter the Masta Straight.
It’s as if Turner has been able to ride a car in front. Both drivers and cars are captured full face; Surtees has a slight advantage. His tyres lift spray as if it’s raining or the track is wet after a shower.

The composition is rather dark and the weather overcast but the red body of the Ferrari is blood red and enlivens the whole picture.

Turner’s best work is graphic and real but never so overworked it fails to engage the viewer. The artist paints in a manner that permits viewer participation. Here is a real battle, of driver, machine, technology, tactics and ability to read and blend with the adverse weather.
A quality of Turners work I like very much is that he captures fleeting moments in an evolutionary on going saga. Perhaps I like the work because it’s not definitive. He paints the passion of a specific event and seems to have empathy with the subject and the context.

Although in a second these two cars will leave the frame, but the viewer will be left with an indelible memory.

Possible this is the secret magic of art, how to etch direct into the viewers imagination and senses.

P98.1968 Dutch GP: Stewart

This work is included on the merit that Michael Turners work has depth and connections. Here Jackie Stewart is prominent his car is seen at Tarzan .its almost the total compositional element and has a very strong horizontal emphasis. However what marks this out is the race is conducted in the rain. The artist as rendered this very convincingly. Not just the rain but also the temperature and the track condition. The rain and mist almost creates a soft focus and the viewer can imagine the driver’s vision and possible discomfort.

The artist’s subtle handling of the crowds in the background reinforces the climatic conditions and Mack’s and brollies are suggested.

For real artistry the editor suggests a close inspection of the track in the foreground. The rain makes for a mirror like gloss on its surface `and in this there a slight reflections of the car. Often its in this level of observation and execution a picture lives or dies.

Befitting the climatic conditions Turner uses a restricted palette of blue mauve, greys and black. Minute observation and technical execution are such that Jackie Stewarts face is recognisable through his visor although condensation and damp may cloud this.

A great picture and artistic in execution of a difficult subject, perspective is achieved but in the crowd there are minute splashes of colour that introduce a balance that permeates and hols the whole composition as one.

P102.1968 Mexican GP: Hill, Stewart, and Rindt.

The editor likes this picture for a variety of reasons and levels.

It’s literally in your face and the racing cars enter a corner tightly grouped and they are seen head on. Michael Turner has handled this composition well and a masterful technical execution that is not over worked but very evocative of this era. Cars have wings but still fight for grip and Tuners captures the physics and handling characteristics and driver correction.

Hill drives the Lotus Ford in Gold Leaf livery and the following cars are seen and framed through the high wing supports.

Again this picture is more than technical record it distils and evokes an era and takes the viewer back. In many respects the work of Michael Turner does not date and has some historical value. The best work is very fresh.

Word Pictures, extended description of other works by Michael Turner.

1957 Sports Car Race in Venezuela [Moss and Dressel]

This must be one of the least sentimental and most ambitious paintings in its raw brutality.
Turner depicts graphically the impact between Moss [Maserati] and Dressel’s A.C
It churns your stomach.

The scene is caught from close quarters from behind and Turner is almost able to freeze frame the moment. It’s an image probably more graphic than a photograph and possible reflects some of the artist’s emotions on experiencing the impact.

In Turners rendering of the scene the whole horror is captured. The speed, danger, violence of the impact. Further more the editor feels that Turner through artistic and technical dexterity is able indicate the physics of the crash and the trajectory. On canvass the unfolding story almost in step frame is told and the image so powerful ignites the viewers thought train to the extent of seeing the accident and aftermath.

In the minute split second Turner captures the impact but also succeeds in suggesting how Moss wrestles the mighty Maserati, to minimise the impact and to continue racing.

As mentioned the red Maserati race number four clearly identified Moss in his white helmet and overalls. The artists talent is such that Moss is clearly distinguished even when seen form behind.

We seem to witness the impact and launching of the AC its belly in the air and shards of aluminium and red paint sweep past. The combined impact speed of approaching 150mph and resultant pressure has flung open the doors and boot of the AC. Its possible to anticipate the disintegration on landing

Not only are you experiencing an accident and physical scene you are let into the minds of the respective drivers and experience fear, dread, instinct, resignation, harsh reality but also the resumption, concentration and continuation of racing.

This grim scene is depicted with a restricted palette, the blood red Maserati symbolic Subtle shades in Moss’s white helmet indicate observation and care. Even in such grim reality the artists does not forsake composition and contrasting highlight.

The editor has considerable respect for this unusual picture and the artist’s ability to retain enormous power of observation under the circumstances. When it comes to telling the story on canvas the dynamic is heightened perhaps in a way only an artist can achieve.

1957 Nurburgring: Fangio passes Collins

In this painting Fangio passes Collins to challenge Hawthorn for the lead.
[For comparison value compare this with previous description]

Once again Michael Turner captures a most dramatic and frightening moment from an unusual perspective. The viewer joins the scene and enters the as if invited to sit on the rear haunches of Fangio’s car.
Three racing cars enter a corner within feet of each other at high speed. One clips the curb and risks losing control.
What the artist has recorded goes further than a photograph. He captures the split second potentiality of the situation. Two cars could collide and be “taken-out”. The leader not involved is almost oblivious; bound in his own concentration to win.

The body language is palpable; and we are almost able to read Fangio’s mind through his helmet in his split second reaction and instruction to the steering wheel.

This picture is not frozen in time; it feels 3D and evolving in time. Forming sequence of serial vision.

The viewer feels so close to the action, and proximity; almost riveted to he car experiencing the rapid and instinctive correcting action and Fangio’s desire to exploit the situation to advantage. In the act of hunting down. It also builds anticipation.

The editor considers this to be an excellent picture and difficult to execute. Three cars almost touch but the artist given them the correct focus and perspective.
The cars form a rough triangular composition in the centre foreground. There is a narrow colour range as all three cars are Italian Red but their helmets distinguish the drivers.
The racing cars take centre stage. The background identifies the circuit but does not intrude. In fact it is deliberately blurred consistent with the speed and vision of the drivers.
In the best of Michael Turners work there is real mood and atmosphere; here the sky looks ominously grey as if a shower might fall and this might be feeding into the driver’s calculations.
Minute extraneous detail is recorded as the drivers might note it.

The editor would suggest that this is good art. It’s not merely photographic. It’s very intense and conveys emotion. At once frightening and exhilarating it communicates the knife-edge and how so many drivers lost their lives in this era.

In the best of Michael Turners work there is a feeling that the artist has direct experience then sets out to translate and some how telecommunicate this to the viewer.

For the editor this technique makes the picture a living thing .To view it is to increase the heart rate whilst it distils a moment when man and machine are locked in a form of mortal combat but totally integrated.


The editor has a high regard for Michael Turners work. It might be suggested if a film director was looking for artistic interpretation he need not go much further than approaching the artist.


Formula One: The Cars and Drivers
Paintings by Michael Turner with commentary by Nigel Roebuck
Temple Press.1983
0 600 350282

*Available from A&R library.

Web site:

Author: John Scott-Davies