Linoleum was a ubiquitous floor covering for nearly a century between the 1880s and 1960s.  It’s invention was one of those happy industrial accidents of the mid-1800s that produced world-changing products, like vulcanized rubber. Frederick Walton noted a flexible skin of dried linseed oil in an old paint can, and thought it might be an interesting substitute for rubber.  After many experiments and a couple of patents, the killer app for Linoleum, as he coined it, was a durable flooring material consisting of linseed oil with cork or wood dust, with a burlap or canvas backing.  Linoleum is flexible, and hey, it’s organic and non-toxic, which has led to a resurgence of interest in Linoleum as an alternative to what superseded it: petroleum-based vinyl flooring.  Manufacturing began in the 1860s in England, and soon spread to the US and Europe by the 1870s. In the ‘Teens, a few artists in England and Germany began exploring linoleum as a printmaking medium that was easier to carve than wood.  Rather than woodcuts, the linocut was born, although as the material was modern and easy to work, it was considered a ‘cheap’ medium initially, and many artists (like Wassily Kandinsky) simply labeled them as woodcuts.  British artists in the ‘Teens took to linocuts with a vigor, elevating the medium with their complex multi-layered prints, often using layers of paper to create further depth and illusory effects.

‘Vortex’ (1929), a linocut by Cyril E. Power that literally depicts the energy of Vorticism. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
The British artists most successful in pushing the linocut forward as a medium were the Vorticists, and later the faculty and students at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London.  The Vorticists were created in response to the Italian Futurists, whose Manifesto in 1909 shook up the art world, and basically invented Modernism as we know it.  Everything you think of as Modern Art was initiated, formalized, and declared as ‘modern’ by the Futurists: abstract painting and sculpture, sound sculpture, sonic poetry, cut-up filmmaking, free-form graphic art with wild fonts for impact, abstract costumes for theater, and performance art.  Probably more!  It was the first art movement to declare itself with a manifesto that was published across Europe, and celebrated vehicles, technology, motion, and violence.  Yes, the Futurists were complex, and turned off a lot of artists, especially when the founders aligned themselves with Benito Mussolini, and helped write the Fascist Manifesto.  There was an English branch of the Futurists founded before WW1, but many artists who dug the style but hated its politics went their own direction, and founded the Vorticists in 1914, mere months before the start of WW1.   Vorticism was to be a British style of Modernism, and their manifesto was published in their own magazine, BLAST No.1 (June 1914), which declared independence from Victorian art and culture, as well as Futurism, Cubism, and Dada.  The Vorticists were led by painter Wyndham Lewis and included Edward Wadsworth, Jacob Epstein, and David Bomberg, among others. The Vorticists brought Modernism to the UK, but they didn’t last long after the traumas of modern warfare in WW1.   The group disbanded by 1917, but by 1925, the founding of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London took up cause of Modernism, and is best known today for the linocuts of its faculty and students.  Linocut artist Claude Flight ran school from 1925-30; he and students Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power are legends of the medium today, whose work sells in the hundreds of thousands today.

‘Brooklands’ (1929) by Claude Flight, founding artist at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London. [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]
Claude Flight was all in on the concept of modern art embracing modern activities, which extended not only through industrial and sports imagery, but included vehicle racing as well, much like their Italian artistic forbears.  I’ve often said that Futurism was the only modern art movement that embraced motorcycles, but I’ll have to amend that statement to include what is now known as the Grosvenor school, after the actual college of art that became intrinsically associated with 1920s/30s modernism in the UK.

‘Dirt Track Racing’ (1929) by Claude Flight.

Claude Flight made the earliest Modernist motorsports linocuts in 1929, and one can feel his inspiration taken from the energy of high-speed racing at Brooklands, and the spectacular broadsliding, rooster-tail racing of dirt track, as it was known in the day.  The compressed perspective of ‘Brooklands’ (1929) with its three hulking white cars, is reminiscent of Hokusai’s ‘wave’ woodcuts from the 1830s, as the banking and clouds threaten to crash over the cars speeding below.  His ‘Dirt Track’ (1929) is more purely abstracted, and almost Art Deco in its repeated colors and circular/checkerboard motifs, although the rooster tail flung skyward and the rider’s arm/leg relationship are the last tethers to reality to what has become a nearly pure geometric abstraction.   Both are 5-color linocuts, meaning Flight coordinated individual colorways on five different squares of linoleum carved to place those colors in specific areas. Flight was tricky with his inking, printing, and paper, often printing on very sheer Japanese paper, which was then pressed onto a thicker paper of another color or visible texture that added a subtle textural depth to his work.  When depicting vehicles (as with ‘Brooklands’), he used paper with metallic flecks beneath his Japanese paper, which translates in the aggregated image as metal bodywork.  This appears as an interesting blotchiness in reproduction here, but is beguiling in person.

‘Speedway’ (1934) by Sybil Andrews.

Flight’s student Sybil Andrews made one of the most iconic and recognizable motorcycle images in all British Modernism, barring purely graphic work by the likes of American expat Edward McKnight Kauffer.  Her ‘Speedway’ of 1934 (the sport had changed its name by then from ‘dirt track’) is a 4-color linocut of three riders in tight formation, with the curved trackside fence and blotches of color suggesting a crowd flashing by.   ‘Speedway’ is perhaps the most Modernist motorcycle image of all, as while it abstracts the riders and their machines into a repeated motif, they are still instantly recognizable, bearing directly at the viewer in a menacing trio totally intent on their purpose. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as rare examples of this linocut sell for a year’s wages – on a very good year.

One of five linocut blocks coordinated to create the multi-color ‘Speedway’ print: most of the colors are layered atop one another in Andrews’ work. The depth of the cuts can be seen clearly [Glenbow Museum, Calgary)


  • British Prints from the Machine Age. Clifford Ackley ed. Thames and Hudson, 2008
  • Avant-Garde British Printmaking, 1914-1960. Frances Carey, Antony Griffiths, Steven Coppel. British Museum Publications, 1990
  • Sybil Andrews: Color Linocuts. Glenbow Museum, 1982

For more:

Art and the Motorcycle (2): The Futurists

Art and the Motorcycle




Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

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