With London hosting the Olympics this summer, coupled with the fact that my favourite sporting event of the year, the Tour de France, occupies the three week slot just before the Olympics starts, this is the perfect time for me to extend the gallery’s offering into other areas of popular culture beyond music. And so, I am delighted to be working with London based artist James Straffon, who shares my love of cycling and its history and traditions, and is pulling out a blinder for us with this exhibition.
The timing of this exhibition is incredibly important, and not just because it straddles both the Tour de France and the Olympic road race, where we Brits stand a very real chance of podiums and medals with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. Equally as importantly, it is timely because it taps into an era – and that era is right now – where cycling has become the new religion for many men in their 40s. And I speak as a convert because I’m one of them.
I’m thrilled that Tour de France GC contender Bradley Wiggins has donated one of his cycling shoes to the exhibition, which James has converted into an installation piece that pays homage to British cycling legend Tom Simpson, whose fateful ascent of Mont Ventoux took place in July 1967. Simpson was the first Briton to wear the Tour’s yellow jersey in 1962, and the exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of this event. Wiggins gained the yellow jersey in the 2012 Tour de France on Saturday 7 July, almost 50 years, to the day, after Tom Simpson.
More about the exhibition
In the exhibition James presents a spectrum of artworks that reframe the uniqueness of ‘La Grande Boucle’, (as the Tour is known in France), in a modern context. Comprising mixed-media compositions, three-dimensional installation pieces, and vintage decoupage, the LE TOUR exhibition revisits the culture, emotion, drama, human fortitude and frailty of what has been described as “the most physiologically demanding of athletic events.”
There is nothing in cycling bigger than the Tour de France, and over the decades, the Tour has fueled a quasi-religious devotion among cycling fans to their Tour heroes. This devotion is very cleverly referenced by James Straffon in many of the exhibition artworks. Visitors to the exhibition will find that the sheer variety of work on show is staggering, whether it is the collection of original paintings of important Tour team jerseys; the fourteen resin coated triptychs featuring icons of the sport created from historic cycling magazines and ephemera from the 40s, 50’s and 60s; the installation pieces featuring bike frames and shoes; or the installation artwork that includes an original vinyl version of Kraftwerk’s single Tour De France, with an ipod attached that plays the music on a loop.
LE TOUR repositions a sporting event, and its players, as a gallery of devotional imagery. Focusing on the visually-rich narrative of cycling heritage – dating back over a century of road racing, and an associated ‘cinematographic’ lifestyle, Straffon incorporates pigment, collage, pen, resin and other mixed-media to build iconic imagery of the great and good, the highs and lows, and the panorama viewable from a unique sporting discipline. Artworks included in LE TOUR exhibition feature tour legends Eddy Merckx, Tom Simpson, Lance Armstrong, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, Gino Bartali, Charly Gaul and many more, both well known and obscure.
A 72-page book accompanies the exhibition, published by Rapha Racing, and will be available for sale during the exhibition.