'I always paint barefoot because I’m less likely to tread on a car and break it,' says Ian Cook
'I always paint barefoot because I’m less likely to tread on a car and break it,' says Ian Cook

I was bullied at school because I was fat. I wasn’t into football or sport, so the only way that I could prove myself was through painting. I virtually lived in the art department and had a natural talent, which I think came from my father, who enjoyed pottery. My only other interests were motoring and Formula One – I could sit in the back of my parents’ car and name every vehicle we passed on the motorway.

We lived in Solihull, Birmingham, where the Rover plant was. My uncle, Paul Davies, headed the design team for the Rover 200 in the 1980s and I thought I was destined to use my artistic skills to be a car designer like him.

I’ve got a degree in fine art from Winchester School of Art. I often used motoring as a theme in my artwork there. Before I graduated in 2004, I cut up hundreds of my own toys to create a giant sculpture.

In 2006, a former girlfriend bought me a remote-controlled car for Christmas. It was a red Lightning McQueen model from the Disney film Cars. She told me not to take it into my art studio or to get paint on it but I did both – I had this idea to pour paint on to a sheet of paper, then steer the car across it, creating an image from the tracks left by the wheels.

Over the next few months I experimented using different techniques, first applying paint to the tyres and then attaching paintbrushes to the back of the model. I discovered that the best method was to put a puddle of paint on the paper and drive the car through it. I had always been interested in model cars, so I soon became quite adept at creating images in this way. My first painting was of a Honda Civic Type R.

I have to wash the wheels clean of paint quite frequently, otherwise the rubber hardens up and it’s harder to paint accurately. I use an acrylic-and-water-based solution but just as if you were using a conventional brush, you have to take care of your tools. When I first started, I was so keen to scrape dried-off paint from one of the wheels that I stabbed myself in the leg with a rusty craft knife. There was blood everywhere and I had to go to hospital for stitches. I always paint barefoot because it does make it easier not to walk on an area of canvas that I’ve painted already. I’m also less likely to tread on a car and break it. I’ve smashed quite a few over the years.

My big chance came when I took over a shop unit in the centre of Wolverhampton. Local radio and television picked up on my paintings and then, in 2007, I appeared on Children in Need: I painted Pudsey Bear using remote-controlled cars. From that moment on, the idea took off and I’ve been using the same technique ever since. One of my favourite pieces was a giant portrait of Lewis Hamilton, which was displayed next to Tower Bridge.

Showing somebody a finished commission for the first time can be totally nerve-racking. It’s a real butterfly moment, wondering if I have created what they expected.

I usually paint in my studio but sometimes the artwork is so large, I have to travel and paint on location. I’ve worked on several pieces in Dubai, which means packing up my cars in suitcases and flying out. My dream is to work in America – they’re car-crazy out there.

I’m 31 later this month and own more than 150 paint-splattered cars – I need that many because I use a big range of different tyre marks. I get through hundreds of batteries. The main downside to creating my art is sore knees from kneeling down, and getting paint on my glasses. Luckily some people think they’re trendy designer frames. I’ve always got paint under my nails, even on the days I’m not painting. I think the only time I managed to scrub completely clean was for my brother’s wedding.

To comment on this article please post below, or email magazineletters@ft.com

Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article