Locked away in a small studio nestled between soaring mountains and valleys in the middle of nowhere, up in the Scottish Highlands, Chris Thornley is sketching out his latest comic book-style commission. His art is inspired by the cinema, graphic novels, typography and a mixture of US and British street culture.
Chris’s Scottish surroundings couldn’t be further away from the Spider-Man poster projects for Marvel and a Star Wars piece for the Disney/Lucas franchise he’s working on at the moment. Comic book characters, skyscrapers and New York yellow cabs emanate from his imagination… along with drawings of some of the coolest Triumph motorcycles you’ll ever see.
His two latest works of art are classic Triumph Bonnevilles, which he describes, in the same minimalist style he’s used to draw them, as ‘Cool without even trying to be cool. Ready to roll and relaxed. Just beautiful bikes to draw, so stylish’.
Influenced by the clean lines of the BMX bikes he rode as a child, Chris is fast garnering a reputation as the go-to artist for capturing California and the States in print form. “It’s coming full circle in a way because childhood is an important factor in my art as I took my inspirations from the movies and my love of 2000AD (a long-running British sci-fi comic). They have now asked me to work with them, so it’s like a dream come true for me.”
“As far as the art goes, I love the geometry and shape of motorcycles and especially the curves of the Bonneville. Triumph is such a cool brand and it’s a stand-out bike. My mum used to take me and my brother to the cinema a lot, so the first bikes I saw were Triumphs.
“They’ve always been there in every good movie. And then there’s the Steve McQueen factor so, realistically, no other bike could have the same allure for me artistically.” Chris believes the simplicity of the classic Triumphs is the reason for his fascination: “Take the Bonneville. It’s not flashy. It’s cool but effortlessly so and its curves are just beautiful.”
Until recently Chris was only known by nom d’art Raid71, which comes from a misspent youth playing computer games – “because no one wants to be killed by a bloke called Chris,” he laughs.
A dream come true
Although his art often depicts American cityscapes, the man also behind the Dirt Quake IV poster and numerous commissions for Sideburn is as British as fish and chips, hailing as he does from the small industrial town of Darwen in Lancashire. The 46-year-old used to ride scramblers around the local countryside but gave it up when he started a family. However, his 11-year-old son, inspired by dad’s artwork, is now starting to badger him for a motorcycle.
His sun-scorched and sodium-drenched images are massive in the States, where 80% of his prints go: “The beauty of the internet is that it doesn’t matter that I’m sitting in a studio surrounded by farms in rural Scotland, where I’m happiest. The countryside round here is perfect for riding so who knows, maybe one day I’ll get back on a bike. And if I do, it will definitely be a classic Triumph.”