Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Heart Like A Wheel
Uniquely, both the subject and sub-title of my latest Dangerous Career Babe – The Race Car Driver (Homage To Hellé Nice) – were suggested by the collector who commissioned it. I had always planned to paint a distaff interpretation of a modern, glam' 'boy racer', such as Lewis Hamilton, but the collector was adamant that his Babe's identity should be rooted in motor-racing's early years. It took just one look at the archival photographs of 1930s' cars and drivers he sent for me to be convinced.To be honest, I was quite taken with the dashing, Italian-born motorcyclist-turned-driver, Tazio Nuvolari,who became know as Il Mantovano Volante – The Flying Mantuan – or Nivola even before winning the 1932 European Grand Prix championship. The founder of Porsche, Dr Ferdinand Porsche, once called him "The greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future." Then the collector turned me on to a woman driver of the period. Hellé Nice tore up tracks in Bugattis and Alfa Romeos as well as well-appointed beds in dalliances with scores of aristocratic or wealthy (or, sometimes, just plain reprobate) men of her day. “I don’t believe she ever thought about anything but sex and showing off," one on-track rival said about her, long after her death. She started out as a dancer and trapeze artist – at the legendary Casino de Paris – and an enthusiastic nude model, before finally finding her true calling as an audacious race driver and an unlikely pioneer or feminism. She toured the world on an early circuit that took in Monte Carlo, Rio De Janeiro and Casablanca as well as famous races at Monza and Silverstone.I guess it's the way of all fairy tales that such a fearless but profligate figure should die in obscurity, penniless. Her last address was the top floor of an attic apartment, looking out onto a seedy part of Nice. It's said she had lost her social acceptance thanks to an ill-founded accusation of an affair with a Nazi officer during the World Warr II occupation of France. But the truth was her reputation never recovered from a crash in which she killed six spectators, during the 1936 Grand Prix de Sao Paulo in Brazil.