Synaesthesia or emotion? One, confusion of the senses, the other goosebumps, heart pumping, slightly knotting in the stomach. Stand alone studying a large John Ketchell canvas – you feel both. Your imagination runs wild. How can you hear and feel so much from an inanimate object? There’s no doubt these paintings can play tricks on the mind.
‘I like painting anything that goes fast,’ John says. ‘Aircraft, horses, whatever, but cars are the thing I really love. I can’t stand doing paintings of still cars. I always try to introduce a bit of movement.’
John has a tendency to make light of his talent. Take a painting such as Storming Drive, which shows the Posey / Bucknum Ferrari 512S blasting through the rain-soaked darkness at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, and you’ll see that ‘a bit of movement’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
John was able to draw from an early age and always liked cars. After school he went to do an engineering degree. “I enjoyed the drawing and sketching much more than the workshop time” he confesses. “A new art school had just started up in Preston, and seeing the people there were having more fun than me I decided to join them”. A long career as an illustrator and designer followed before John decided, at 52, “to pack it in” and become a full time artist.
The way John uses his acrylics now is a technique he has developed over time. “When I first started my paintings were much tighter. I quite liked them, and people seemed to buy them, but I thought they were boring and so started working in a looser style”.
John’s paintings may look like brushstrokes thrown quickly onto a canvas, but look carefully and you will see that each has been carefully considered before being applied and the draughtsmanship below is second to none. Everything in perfect proportion and rendered with just a few dabs of paint with a flat-ended brush. There’s clearly still an engineer in there somewhere.
Each painting starts out as a pencil or colour rough, about A4 in size, which is then worked up into the final artwork. John works from a stack of reference material crammed into his small studio alongside his brushes, paints and canvases. Books, magazines and a large library of photographs he has taken at places like Goodwood and Silverstone.
John’s favourite subjects are the GP cars of the 1930’s and the sports prototypes of the 60’s and 70’s. “Modern photographs of these are useful, but many of the cars I like to paint do not exist any longer, or at least not in their original form and so it’s period images that I need as references – I often use many photographs to build up an image” he says. “Sometimes I have to use artistic licence to achieve the image I want, but you have to do the best from the reference material available”. “I always have an idea in my mind of how the painting will look when it’s finished. Sometimes they turn out better.”
“There are times when I feel I need a diversion from cars. Now and then I’ll do a portrait, or some horses or an aeroplane, just to make sure painting cars never starts to feel like ‘work’. I approach every painting as if I were painting it for myself, and luckily other people buy them.”
Indeed, his work has long been in demand among collectors, among them Luca di Montezemolo who hung a Ketchell canvas in Enzo’s old office during his time at the helm of Ferrari.