Inspiration comes easily for artists living in Venice — just ask
Harold Cleworth, considered one of the foremost painters of automobiles.
A resident of Venice by way of northern England, London, and San Francisco, Cleworth has made a name for himself in the automobile world and enjoys great success with his photo-realistic paintings of cars.
The creativity of his works, fueled by his love for the automobile, propelled him to fame in the ’70s. Since then, Cleworth has produced commissioned works and original paintings in his signature lifelike, photographic style.
Harold Cleworth was born in northern England. His father was a bus driver for 50 years and surrounded Cleworth with machinery at a young age. Cleworth attributes his inclination toward his future career in automobile art to his early heavily industrial environment.
“My father was an unworldly man, drove a bus, but he is directly responsible for my choice of subject matter right now,” Cleworth says. “He would lift up the hood of the bus and show me the engine and explain how things worked, thinking maybe I would be a mechanic later on, I don’t know, but it came out in a very different way.”
As a teenager Cleworth would paint landscapes of his surroundings and display them locally, giving him his first taste of a life in painting. After moving to London, he became an illustrator for Decca Records, where he worked on the first two Rolling Stones album covers, as well as one for The Who — “back then they were still unknown, but as time goes on [the covers] have become sort of iconic,” Cleworth says.
“Growing up, I’d wanted to be an illustrator, I knew I wanted to
design album covers, so once I’d achieved that, I wanted to find
something else,” he says. “Coincidentally I met a couple of guys from San Francisco and they convinced me to move out to California.
“I had this dream of having my own studio where somebody could just walk in there and buy a piece, and then I could paint another one — but there was never any ‘not’ about it, and fortunately it worked.”
Although Cleworth had never thought to combine his ability to paint with his love for cars, it was his move to the United States that prompted him to pursue his passion.
“I left London because, even though I had a good job, I knew I didn’t want to do [illustrations] for the rest of my life, I wanted to paintÖ it was a cleansing experience,” Cleworth says.
After his move to San Francisco, Cleworth saw a 1959 Cadillac that had first made an impression on him in England.
“I recall seeing it in 1959 when it was introduced in England, and amongst all the good taste of the English cars was this silver, monstrous car from America, which appalled most of England because it was just bad taste, but I secretly fell in love with it,” Cleworth says.
His painting of it, a graphic piece of the tail fin, turned out to be his breakthrough.
“That was the first one where we published it and it gave me local recognition, though nobody knew my name, they said, ‘Oh, you know, that pink fin guy,'” he says. “It was a few years later that my painting of the [Mercedes Gullwing] gave me national attention.”
Subsequent commissions continued to build Cleworth’s reputation in the automobile industry.
He frequents car shows, bringing his most recent works to “ruffle the feathers” of automobile enthusiasts, most notably with a painting of “The Spirit of Ecstasy,” the Rolls-Royce hood
ornament, silk-screened on black velvet.
Cleworth admits that people have begun to look to him for new works, to see how far he has taken the automobile.
Influenced by Venice, he has also begun to include graffiti in his paintings, as well as use the beach for his backgrounds.
He acknowledges his good fortune, though, in being able to do what he loves.
“This is what I do, I can’t imagine doing anything better,” he says. “I’m a lucky guy, I do exactly what I want for a living.
“They say if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life and that’s, well, it’s nice.”