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St Mert Explained

Here is a post explaining the back story about how our wonderful new St Mert artwork came to fruition. It makes sense to start with the email I sent to Toria Jaymes of Stay Outside Studio, on 21 March this year. I'm going to add more background as we go along...

Hi Toria

I visited a museum and there was a brass rubbing of a medieval knight. I want to replicate it, but as a motorcycle racer. It could be a '60s style Gary Nixon or Mert Lawwill style. I have a thing about St Mert, so if it was recognisably Mert from 1969/70, that would be cool.

[The museum was the Ashmolean in Oxford. We went on a half-term family city break to Oxford. Anna and Anthony DTRA recommended seeing the Jeff Koons exhibition being hosted there, then we had a walk around the rest of the huge museum/art gallery].

I want it to have the same build and posture of the brass rubbings, so if we were doing a modern racer, the art wouldn't look at broad and muscular as modern racers. I want it to look like a pencil/graphite rubbing.

The actual one I saw is this guy, Sir John D'Abernon.

'Until recently, this brass was believed to represent the first Sir John d’Abernon and was dated to 1277. It was regarded as the earliest surviving brass in England. However, recent studies have established that the brass dates from the 1320s and hence represents John d’Abernon II, rather than his father. The monument was done in the distinct Camoys London style, recognized for its sleek military design, which aided scholars in properly dating the monument. Its brief inscription reads: “Sir John D’Abernoun, Knight, lies here. God have mercy on his soul.” The d’Abernons, a knightly family, held lands in Surrey since 1086. Sir John II went to court over a dispute with a neighbour who had accused him of appropriating land. Sir John was sued and, after accusing his neighbour of perjury, Sir John was jailed. The monument provides one of the earliest examples of chain mail armour before the switch to plate mail. Sir John’s monument also demonstrates the importance this lesser known gentry family placed on commemorating their kin.'

//back to the email//

The idea is to make a few limited edition things from it.

1. An art print triptych of the full length of the rider that 40cm tall by 30cm wide. So head, middle and legs/feet are in the three different frames on the wall.

2. We will print more of the top one and sell it as a single head and shoulders. [We didn't]

3. Possibly a T-shirt of the full rider, with SIDEBURN AND St. Mert Protects in a Medieval font.

Have you seen anyone do this with bike racers before? I haven't, but I don't want to be second to it.


//email ends//

That was the original email. Toria was up for the idea. We work with a lot of number of different artists, some we use only once, some we return to. Toria first created the cover for SB24 and has supplied artwork for T-shirts, illustrations for the mag, art prints, stickers and a 12ft wide back drop since her debut. She is very adaptable without one over-riding style. A real chameleon.

The brass plates the artwork was inspired by first started appearing in England, Belgium, Germany and France around the mid-1200s. They were to commemorate dead lords, ladies, knights and other VIPs of the age. All the French brasses were destroyed but there are reported to be thousands in the UK, all of them over 600 years old. The engraved artwork is so intricate, attractive and, of course, historic, that people would make rubbings of the original brass artwork. The image of Sir 'd'Abernon above, and what I saw at the Ashmolean, is a rubbing of it, but the original brass is still in existence. The rubbing being created by putting paper over the engraved brass and rubbing with charcoal, graphite, pencil, crayon... The facsimile of the original brass was what got my cogs whirring.

Now, Mert Lawwill is not dead and we wish him no disrespect. The opposite, in fact, he's the patron saint of Sideburn and we hope he lives forever.

When the artwork was delivered I was so happy I was close to tears (it must have been a very long day). It was the perfect mix of flat track, art and a left field influence that made it the most Sideburny pieces of art I'd ever commissioned. But that might just be because it was an inch-perfect version of what I had in my head.

St Mert is in his armour, complete with period patch detail, but with added medieval weaponry. Toria had even put Mary, our first greyhound who, unlike Mr Lawwill, is dead, at St Mert's Redwing and hot shoe-clad feet. People often think the knights and noblefolk are stood on the animals, but these philistines are being too 21st century literal, not accounting for artistic licence, iconography, or that the body is prone, because the person is deceased. I did some research into the significance of the animals and it threw this up, making Toria's depiction even more spot on.

The animal at the feet has meaning. The lion at the feet of men in armour probably symbolizes courage and the hound manly sport, but the double-tailed lion at the feet of Maud Chaucer, the daughter-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer, is heraldic, borrowed from the arms of her father, John Burghersh, and the dragon at the feet of Margaret Willoughby of Raveningham, Norfolk, is an attribute of St. Margaret, her namesake.

Toria also made a heraldic shield and trumpet and banner as details with her own hand-drawn medieval lettering. The shield is laminated on the back cover of Sideburn 37 and the front of the T-shirt.

As mentioned in the original email we made the brass rubbing into a triptych, a three-piece artwork, plus a 90cm (3ft) long one-piece giclee print and also a T-shirt. All were printed in the UK.

Massive thanks to Toria of Stay Outside Studio for delivering the perfect artwork.

Check out the limited edition Sideburn St Mert merchandise.

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