Vincent Kamp has an awesome all-or-nothing attitude. It’s infectious, and it’s not surprising that it pays off in life. When he threw all his energy into the world of bicycle paintings, he found himself displaying at the London Bike Show and launching a Soho exhibition. His passion for the cycling industry and for going for what you love is worth listening for anyone contemplating their own side projects. The show, Beyond The Peloton, launches next week, running from 15-20th June. Below, he talks about ‘go hard or go home’, a little more eloquently.
Hi Vincent. How did the show come about? What started it all?
Vincent: I paint in my spare time. I sculpt, I build – I do all sorts of bits – and I love cycling. I’m mad keen about cycling. A friend of mine said “why don’t you start painting cyclists? I haven’t seen any good cycling art out there.” So I started searching about and I couldn’t really find any. I thought “is this because there’s no market in cycling art?” and then I thought: “well, I don’t really care if there’s no market for this, I just really love doing it.” I’d been wanting to get back into the cycling gang that I used to be in when I was younger. I used to race for a mountain bike team when I was 16, 17 and 18. It was really great, and I was really embedded in the scene. I’d dropped out of it when I went to university. I wanted to get back into it, and see the mates who were still involved in it. It’s a really friendly industry, cycling, because no one really makes a ton of money – everybody’s just in it because they love it.
I was friends with a guy called Geoff Waugh who’s quite a well known photographer. I said to him: “do you maybe want to put on a show of your photography and my paintings?” I thought it’d be fun putting a show together. I thought I’d just find a gallery, tell them about the show, try and get a deal, and invite everyone I know to come and have a look at the paintings. That’s how it kicked off.
Another friend asked if I wanted to get a last-minute booth at the London Bike Show. I only had a handful of paintings that I’d done, but said yes. There was loads of attention. Everyone was coming up to us saying “we’ve never seen anything like this before!” and I was like “well they’re just paintings but thank you very much!” It was wonderful for my ego. So it built from there onwards, really. Now it seems there are a lot of people interested.
Did you test your artwork out anywhere before the London Bike Show and the exhibition space? Was there any middle ground?
No. I’ve painted for three years or so. I’ve shown friends and family, but they’re the worst people to show because there are talent shows populated with people saying “no, no, my Mum says I’m brilliant!” And I know I’m not brilliant, by any stretch of the imagination. But I do like to put my stuff out there and get feedback, and I have a very thick skin from years of doing all sorts of different things. So I really just wanted to get it out there and get back into the scene – I didn’t really care too much if it was a massive commercial success or anything. It’s worked really well! It’s kind of taken over a lot of stuff actually, which is something I never anticipated. We’ll see where it goes. It’s more serious Geoff – he’s a serious photographer – that’s his livelihood. He’s brilliant and he’s well known in the industry.
How did you meet him and come to be friends?
Geoff’s a little bit older than me and he’s been a commercial photographer for so many years. He used to take pictures of me and all the others when I was racing back in the day. I got to know him a little bit that way.
How do you select who you’re painting?
People I like. So at the moment this is a British cycling show and I really like Froomey – I’ve just done Chris Froome. I really like Bradley Wiggins – he’s just such a character, he’s got such a lot about him. I really like Mark Cavendish for the wrong reasons. I think he’s a bit of an asshole, he’s a bit arrogant. But I quite like him for that. It’s something more interesting.
I like lots of the old school riders. I love Merckx. It’s his 70th year this year and I want to do something with that. I may try and do an international show, and do something different. See how this goes. If it’s a total flop I’ll sneak off and find another hobby. But no, really – it’s much more than a hobby. I get up early, about 4am. You’ve got to really love what you do to do that. I’ve also got a job and a family to look after, so I have to do it when just milkmen and farmers are awake.
So tell me about how you got into cycling. Who taught you to ride and where did that go?
Well, I’m from Holland, so my Mum and Dad are Dutch. In Holland you have to cycle – you’re on a bike before you walk. At school I never really conformed to any of the sports. Ruby, cricket, .. I never did any of that. I was completely uninterested in any of that, but I had a paper round when I was 10 and I used to cycle on that and run in between the houses. Then I got another paper round and another paper round until I had three, and I was riding round and getting quite fit and strong. Mountain biking was just starting then, this was 1987/’88 – it was starting to get really popular.
And there was me, age 15 or 16, racing with my heroes.
I entered a local mountain bike race and – this was probably pre-internet, you had to write a self-addressed-envelope and send it off with hopes that it would come back – so, I entered that and I won the junior category. I thought ‘oh I quite like this, I’m quite good at this’ and I carried on racing and formed this whole network of friends outside of school. I had my school mates and I had my cycling mates, and they were all different ages, of course. At a bike club you meet all different people, and I really loved that.
Before long I was travelling up and down the country, racing. I got totally addicted. Then I got onto this team and I was racing with a guy called Dave Hemming who won the a silver medal in the world downhill championships race. He was on a poster on my wall, and suddenly I was racing on the same team as him and another guy, Garry Foord, who went to the olympics!
So there was me, age 15 or 16, racing with my heroes, getting given free bikes whilst my mates went and played rugby at the weekend. It was a completely different lifestyle and I absolutely loved it. So that’s why there’s always a piece of me in cycling, always thinking about bikes. That’s never gone away. But I stopped racing for quite some time.
You stopped cycling went you went to university. When did you pick it up again after?
I started racing triathlons when I was 30. My Mum died of cancer and I desperately needed something to do, to get my mind off stuff. I started riding my bike again loads and running, and I entered a triathlon for some reason. I can’t remember why – they were getting quite popular. I got really into that and got quite good at them too, so started racing iron man and half iron man, and got really into that. Then my children arrived and I thought ‘this isn’t really a good idea.’
I’m a bit all-or-nothing, as you can probably tell from the gallery: immediately saying “No, it’s got to be a show in London. It’s got to be huge!” When the kids came along, I couldn’t do all three disciplines, so I started racing my mountain bike again. I’ll see what happens next.
In your painting, how come you focus on road and velodrome rather than mountain bike?
I’ve just been riding on the roads quite a lot and I’ve always watch Tour de France. Every year, even when I stopped cycling. There is a romance about the Tour de France which is just undeniable. Even people who have got no interest in cycling know about the Tour de France. I think it’s the most watched cycling event outside of the Olympics. There’s something about it, it’s just so intense. So incredible to be able to ride your bike for 23 days in July, cover 3,500K – it’s just phenomenal. They are the world’s greatest athletes, and the drama that plays out on the roads: if you really follow it and know all the tactics and all the rest of it – you don’t really have that in mountain bike racing.
It’s a one-day event. There is some stage racing but not really. The downhill is a minute of effort and it’s who’s the least scared wins. Okay, that’s bollocks. Of course there’s massive effort and skills. But it’s like car-crash TV, downhill racing. Whereas road racing is drama, it’s passion, and I think that’s what lends itself to characters and trying to capture that intensity. The passion you need to be able to ride your bike for that long – it’s incredible. You can’t just do that for the money. It’s too hard. So that’s why road racing.
You talked about an international show, if this one goes well.
Yeah, why not! Belgium is so crazy passionate about cycling, it’s insane. If you go to a service station in Belgium you won’t see footballers on the wall, you’ll see cyclists on the wall. Riders. It’s incredible how passionate they are.
There are some real heroes in Belgian cycling, so I thought maybe I could do a Belgian show, because there would just be so much interest in it. Way more than there would be in England. That’d be quite interesting. I know a guy who’s absolutely crazy passionate about cycling and knows the guy who runs the Tour of Flanders museum. It’s actually run by him – Freddie Maertens. Who’s one of Belgium’s greatest heroes – he’s still running it. You go to the museum and it’s actually curated by the guy who won the Tour de France. Can you imagine David Beckham running a museum and you’d go in and he’d just be there, hanging out?
I need to go. We always drive through Belgium on our way through to Holland. We need to stop a bit more, but there’s only so long you can sit in a car with small children – they go nuts.
Are your kids as into cycling as you are?
No. So disappointing! They’re eight and five at the moment. But they’re starting – they’re riding to school now every day. They’re starting to get a bit more into it. I’ve got hopes for the younger one – he’s a maniac, who gets all fired up about stuff. Whilst the older one is more Minecraft and likes his screens.
Lovely. Thank you for answering my questions.
Beyond the Peloton runs 15-20 June at Artefact Gallery, Windmill Street, London. Go and see it.