Motorcycle Art: Too Fast To See

Resurrecting the power of speed through art

Look at the art on this page. What type of bikes do you think the artist rides? Probably superbikes or, at least, sporbikes, right? He most definitely doesn’t ride Harleys or grandpa glides. Well, in addition to only owning two hardtails, the hardtails artist Terence “Terry” Ross of Speed/Still rides have peddles attached to them. “My studio is based at my home,” Terry clarifies, “so getting any exercise is very limited. So every day, I go out for about an hour … in the mud!”

Terry also didn’t have much interest in bikes as a kid (it was all about cars to impress the ladies) and, for most of his career, did ad work for car companies, not motorcycle manufacturers, let alone ones that make sportbikes. It wasn’t until Terry started Speed/Still when he began focusing on the two-wheeled machine, specifically by capturing their speed through sculpting.

Why speed? Terry’s Holy Grail of inspiration all comes from a French publication he read one day about the motorsports photography of Jacques Henri Lartigue, a renowned photographer who lived from 1894 to 1986. Terry was immediately struck by how Jacques had been able to capture “crazy effects” of fast-moving vehicles despite being limited to large format plate cameras. But that’s what made them so great. The shutters were incapable of keeping up with the quickness of the vehicles. 

When photo equipment improved, that particular art form was soon gone in a flash. “Things sharpened up a lot more, and we lost a lot of the feel of speed,” Terry comments. Now digital cameras can keep up, making these fast-moving objects look as though they’re not even moving (almost slowing them down in the process). Today’s photos of “fast” bikes are a crisp, physical entity, rather than an untraceable speeding machine whose shape is contorted. 

It was out of this appreciation for the speed-causing blurs, smudges, and distortions caused by the “failings” of human technology, which made Terry become interested in the rider. “In a car, you can’t use the driver as part in the overall movement, unless it’s an open racecar. And then it’s normally only a head and hands that might be involved,” he says. “With a bike, most of the movement comes from the position of the rider. On a bike, you can’t hide, you’re part of the machine.” That’s why Terry now has a special affinity for MotoGP. “It’s the way they move around on the bikes,” he says about MotoGP racers. “There are hundreds of positions a rider gets into, which will tell you how fast they’re going or the direction they’re taking.” 

Even though the looks of his bikes and their rides are exaggerated, Terry still puts in “a ton of research” before he starts sculpting. When Terry has spare time, he likes studying-up by going to shows and taking reference photos.

One piece in particular that took a lot of investigating is Terry’s sculpture called Chapter 5, an abstract image depicting the hype surrounding the first time Rossi Vale jumped onto a Ducati at the Valencia test. Near the bottom of the sculpture, Vale’s legs and the back portion of his bike have been replaced or covered with newspapers, magazines, and other publications. This represents the “media frenzy” surrounding the event at the time. Terry actually researched every single bike magazine, web site, news channel, and newspaper that covered the story and implemented them into that part of the sculpture. “The expectation was just silly,” comments Terry about the Valencia test. “He’d won the championship before he had got on the bike!”

As you can imagine, the process involved in creating his sculptures takes a long time. For just sculpting, that’s six to seven weeks of his life using Super-sculpy, a polymer clay. Painting takes an additional three to four weeks. And if he wants to make one of his back-lit images, constructing the boxes for them alone takes him two years. That’s why Terry can only commit to creating one or two sculptures each year.

“As an artist, we’re all trying to find that unique style, feel,” concludes Terry. “Call it whatever you like. Without that, you’ll drift around and always never be able to claim a look that’s yours.” Well, it’s safe to say that Terry claimed a look that’s his a long time ago.

Visit to see more of Terrys automotive art.