Artist in Speed: Keith Sutton meets Michael Turner


Keith Sutton, CEO of Sutton Images, was invited into the Buckinghamshire home and studio of the artist Michael Turner to learn more about the man behind the brush

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013.

Michael Turner is one of today’s best-known and highly regarded Motor Sport artists. His racing scenes are instantly recognisable simply by the style in which they are painted with each scene depicting not only the excitement and dynamism of the race, but also the character of the drivers themselves. To own a Michael Turner painting is to own part of the passion that created it, but where did this passion start and how did it turn into his profession.

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013.

Michael Turner was born in Harrow, Middlesex, in 1934. One of his earliest memories is that of being pushed in his pram by his mother at the age of 3 and running a toy car through the water on the rain cover. Up until the age of 5 when he had to start his education at primary school, playing with toy cars had given Michael many hours of enjoyment and he would immerse himself into the miniature car world of road signs and pavements of printed card strips he had created on the carpet at his home.

By the age of 6, with the declaration of the Second World War, Michael’s attentions turned to planes and tanks and his interest in cars had taken a back seat. However, this passion for motorsport was to be re-ignited whilst on holiday at the age of 14.
WWII had taken its toll on the people of Britain and luxuries such as holidays had not been possible, but in 1947, some two years after VJ day, Michael and his family were able to get away for a proper holiday to stay with some relatives of his Mother on the Isle of Wight.

It was towards the end of their last week, that the family were looking for something different to do and by chance a poster was spotted advertising the British Empire Trophy car races which were being held on the island as one of the first post-war revivals of motorsport. Michael went along, with his Cousin, to the practice that evening and watched in awe at each passing driver wearing a flat cap and goggles trying to keep control of their car whilst they slid around the tight bends and the delicious smell of Castrol ‘R’ hanging in the air as the driver regained direction and sped away.

From that moment, Michael was devoted to the speed and spectacle of motor sport and to spending a lifetime successfully recreating and recording his visual impressions of the sights and sounds of motor racing on paper and canvas.

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013.

Michael was determined to learn as much about motor sport, the cars and the drivers as he could and subscribed to the magazines of the time, Motor, Autocar and Motor Sport where he could read about and see pictures of the growing number of events that were starting up again in post war Britain and Europe.

He persuaded his long-suffering parents to take him to events such as Silverstone, Goodwood, Brands Hatch, road races in Jersey and of course return to the Isle of Man where he could stand as close as possible to the action frantically scribbling with his pencil trying to capture on paper everything his eye could see and taking photographs on his Purma-Special camera for reference for his more detailed paintings.

Michael continued to draw and paint through his school life and in 1951, after attaining 8 passes in his School Certificate Examinations, he enrolled at the Heatherley School of Fine Arts.

He worked hard at getting to know people who were connected to motor racing and through various contacts he made, saw his paintings hung at The Steering Wheel Club which was the meeting place for anyone connected with the sport when in London.

His first real break came from a commission by the British Automobile Racing Club who wanted Michael to provide an illustration from their forthcoming Whit Monday race meeting at Goodwood for publication in the BARC Gazette. Realising, in order to do a good job, he would need a Press Pass he requested one but was left on tenterhooks for days before finally receiving the nod 10 minutes before the first event started on the day. The day’s action left Michael buzzing well into the evening but he settled on recreating a start scene and this was duly published in the Gazette and he was paid the princely sum of 2 guineas.

Then at the age of 18, his full time studying was put on hold when he was called up for the mandatory two years National Service. He trained as a Clerk and was in a unit where he could sketch all sorts of vehicles in the workshops. As he was based in Ashford, Michael was still able to attend evening classes at the Heatherley and keep up his visits to motor racing events.

He was demobbed in 1954 and spent the next 3 years working for advertising studios in London learning his art before becoming a freelance artist in 1957. In 1960 he married his wife Helen and they went on to have three children, 2 daughters and one son, Graham, who has followed in his father’s footsteps to becoming an artist in his own right.

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013.

Michael’s passion for motor sport has taken him to most of the major racing circuits throughout Europe, North and South America, Canada and South Africa and gaining a Press Pass is now no great obstacle. With a strong belief that there is no substitute for first hand involvement in order to portray such demanding subjects with authority and feeling, Michael has travelled extensively to the world’s major race tracks to satisfy his need for authenticity, and he continues to visit several Grand Prix each year.

Michael still has a passion for aircraft and he has flown in many service aircraft, from Tiger Moth and Lancaster to Harrier and Tornado, plus aerobatic sorties with the Red Arrows, to gain first hand impressions for his aviation paintings.

He holds a Private Pilots Licence and flies his own Chipmunk aircraft. He is a founder member of The Guild of Aviation Artists, of which he has twice been Chairman and is now President, and an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Motoring Artists. His clients include many racing drivers, teams, sponsors, pilots, motor and aircraft manufacturers, R.A.F. and Army messes, museums and private collections worldwide, and he has held one man exhibitions in London, New York, Australia and the U.S.A., plus participation in specialist shows in the U.K. and Europe.

To date, Michael has had six books of his paintings published – featuring aircraft of the Royal Air Force, Formula One Motor Racing, Aircraft of the Luftwaffe, Aviation Art, Monaco Grand Prix and Motor Sport Art.

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013.

Michael’s next exhibition is commemorating his studio’s 50th Anniversary entitled ‘Exhibition of Paintings by Michael Turner and Graham Turner’ and will be held between 4th and 6th October 2013 at Halton House, Near Wendover, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

I found my visit to ‘Studio 88’ both fascinating and informative. Set in rural Buckinghamshire, Michael’s working studio is a relaxing and charming setting to while away the hours doing what he enjoys and is obviously a master at.

We can only wish him continued success in bringing to life the wonderful, exhilarating sport we are all willing slaves to, and to prove that even though there is no substitute to being at the event in person, just by looking at one of his paintings, you are taken to that moment in time as if you were actually there.

Michael Turner Gallery Visit, Chesham, England, 11 September 2013. 


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