In ‘Sound Stories,’ Abstract Art Recalls Visceral Racing Memories
Photography by Dean Atkins
Imagine seeing the sound of Mike Hailwood on his Honda RC166—the “Six”—at the 1966 Isle of Man TT. Or Stefan Bellof’s Porsche 956 as he raced around the Nürburgring in just six minutes and eleven seconds.
Artist Rachael Clegg—creator of the cult Isle of Man TT calendar series “Milestones,” has just launched “Sound Stories,” paintings that capture the sounds of some of the most iconic machines and moments in motorsport history.
Her Sound Stories include paintings of Mike Hailwood’s Honda 350/4 at Crosby on the Isle of Man TT course, Michael Dunlop’s staggering lap speed of 133.393 MPH at the 2016 Superbike TT. Other works include capturing the staccato chorus of Walter Rörhl’s Audi Quattro at San Remo, and as mentioned above, the late Stefan Bellof’s historic unofficial record-setting lap of the Nürburgring.
All paintings in the series are faithful to the colors of the liveries of the machines themselves, such that the Triumph Scrambler is painted in what Rachael describes as “Steve McQueen green” and the Bellof painting is in the famous Rothmans colors of his most well-known car.
Rachael says that “the paintings capture the thrust, the gear changes, the braking points and, even the deceleration as the likes of legendary moto and auto racers tear around the world’s tracks. For example, the sheer power of Michael Dunlop’s BMW Superbike as he flies down Glencrutchery straight is tracked in the painted wave form: it’s big and beastly and black, just like his racing machine. You can hear the sound as you look at it.”
“The same goes for the Hailwood painting of RC173 at Crosby, Isle of Man: you can see the wave expand as he accelerates through the complicated section. The wave is punctuated with jagged peaks, which show how rough the road surface was, the loss and gain of grip making for a chopped-up aural treat. So much information is packed into these waves.”
The Sound Stories range includes oil paintings as well as shirts depicting motion through sound through art. And word is already spreading, as Rachael says: “I was at the Classic TT last year and Damon Hill bought a Sound Stories T-shirt off of me. It took ages for the penny to drop and then I realized who it was!”
But the Sound Stories aren’t just reproductions of scientific data either. “I represent the wave as it is and work with the oil paint to enhance the wave form. It takes days to complete one using this method.”
Rachael Clegg has a first class degree and an MA in art history. She worked at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool and spent time teaching art while working as a journalist. But while accomplished as an artist, she’s not new to the world of motorsport either.
“My dad, Noel Clegg, was a TT racer, along with my granddad. I have so many fond memories of watching dad race, but it’s the sounds that I remember most.”
“I also remember dad having these records called Sound Stories, a series of recordings of the TT races during the 1950s and 1960s,” she says. “I recently dug them out and couldn’t stop listening to them—they are real gems of motoring history. And the sounds of course are incredible.”
Rachael had started actualizing the idea of painting sound in 2003, but with music. Now though, she tailors her paintings towards motorsport, using a variety of audio material including sounds recorded by her clients for commissions. “You wouldn’t believe the requests I’ve had, but whatever the sound, they always make beautiful abstract images. I’m working on the sound wave of an Austin Healey at the moment in an iridescent blue. It will be on display with the car and together the pair will look stunning.”
Though these are her works, she remains true to the premise of the original Sound Stories recordings. In one of the original pressings, a statement reads: “To the connoisseur of motorcycle road racing there’s nothing more exciting than a crisply-defined exhaust note.” Rachael says, “These recordings are all about engines. Produced by Stanley Schofield, they covered some of the most exciting races in TT history—from the British-dominated grid of the late ‘50s, with the likes of Bob McIntyre and Geoff Duke, to the infamous duel between Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini at the Diamond Jubilee TT.”
In these recordings, Schofield set about his mission with a handful of sound engineers, strategically placed at various parts of the course, along with the father-son commentary duo of Graham and Murray Walker.
The team would record the bikes, re-convene at their accommodation and Murray and Graham would write the script. The sound team—led by a man called Gordon Pitt—would locate the appropriate soundbites to go along with the voiceover.
Murray recalls that “They were working through what was, quite literally, miles of tape of engine sounds. Gordon Pitt would then put the whole lot together. It was a hell of a feat.”
And, much like Schofield’s records, Rachael Clegg aims to capture the majesty of some of the most powerful, exotic machines in motorsport history through her own version of Sound Stories. “You never forget the sound of a beastly machine,” she said. “And now I’m on a mission to immortalize those sounds in painting.”
Rachael Clegg takes commissions for her Sound Stories series and also sells T-shirts and prints of some of her creations. Visit www.rachaelclegg.com for more information.
The Austin Healey and its Sound Stories painting were shot at Car Specialists, in Sheffield, UK