Barry Rowe Retrospective

by Wallace Wyss

Barry Rowe is one of the stalwarts of British automotive art. He is not, he emphasized to us, retiring but merely withdrawing from AFAS because International travel across the Atlantic is something he’s giving up. We wanted to present a retrospective to explore how his style became so memorable.

You could say he started preparing himself for the artistic experience while still a child. His father worked at Jaguar, and he would cycle past the security guard and see race cars being built. “Very exciting cars like the C Type,” he recalls. His first automotive drawing was done at the age of ten. “The XK120 was very difficult to draw, my dad brought me some photos, and that got me started,” he says. 

He was formally trained, entering art School when he was thirteen years old. He won a scholarship. “Graphic design was the most interesting at that time and I could get a job in advertising which was my ambition at that time. I used to do cartoons in my spare time and on average I would get three published in the national press every week.”

He worked as a junior Art Director, and met a photographer, Ted Eves, who took photographs for Sporting Motorist Magazine. Eves showed  his editor Rowe’s car paintings that was the start. “I did front cover paintings every month, not bad for a twenty year old!” he recalls.


After some years of only being able to do car subjects in his spare time he decided to go freelance, “quite risky,” he recalls

"with a wife and two small children, but it worked very well.”

He connected with book publishing when he got an assignment from 'The Bosch Book of the Motor Car.” Rowe recalls “This was a great commission, doing research with old Patent Office diagrams etc I learned a great deal about inventions with early cars. There were about 300 illustrations depicting the development of the car.” He resisted doing mechanical drawings and instead did them in his own style, which led to more clients.


His entry into the fine arts world came as a result of entering a contest run by Sothebys auction house in 1994. He won the Sothebys Transport Trust award , which opened up a new direction.

One of the prize plums resulting from this was when he was contacted by Louis Vuitton. “They took me to their offices in Paris, and ,as a result, my paintings were in the shop windows worldwide.”

Cars weren’t his only vehicles, For a shipping line, he  received  commissions for for  large paintings to decorate the walls of dining rooms and entertainment lounges. “I  worked paintings for six cruise ships --mostly Art Deco style. One painting was 30 feet x 15 feet, quite a challenge. It was depicting artists and inventors e.g. Leonardo de Vinci.”

Those who see his motoring art, particularly those showing venues like Monaco, marvel at his historical accuracy.  “I do enjoy going through old period photos and film so that I get it right,” he says with a smile.

Rowe was one of the first of the AFAS artists to have a book of his work, this one called Atmosphere and Light. He explains that the author Gary Doyle came up with the title. The book won a gold medal in New York at International Automotive Media Awards. The publisher was  David Bull a publisher in Phoenix, Arizona.


If there’s any identifying characteristic of his style, it is to show a motoring scene  in what some call “the golden light? “I do like long shadows and warm light,” he confides.

He also likes to have a car not in isolation but in context. to create an ambiance so you can not only appreciate say, a Jaguar XK120 but a Jag XK120 at a particular event so the viewers can fantasize being at the event. Says Rowe: “Yes, I do like to appeal to the ladies as well as the car buffs.

If you want your paintings to decorate the home as well as the garage you have to make them appealing to all genders.”

He remembers having an epiphany of sorts and deciding from then on he would  show more people with the cars.   

Quite a few paintings were made for events, with Pebble Beach commissioning  many, twenty-one in succession, for either The Tour or The Concours. Six Concours and Fifteen Tour posters.”  

As for advice to young automotive artists, Rowe says “You need a small sketch book and camera with you at all times. You need this desire in you which drives you. Don't be put off by other people. Be true to yourself. You never know what’s round the corner!!”

AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a regular contributor to this publication.

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