The Fine Art of Framebuilding

It seems to me I read somewhere that Picasso once described the bicycle as humanity’s highest and purest form of sculpture. I can’t remember now where it was I read that quote, or the context, and when I’ve tried looking it up I’ve not been able to find any reference to it or indeed any evidence that the man ever really did say such a thing, although he himself certainly made at least one famous sculpture out of bicycle parts and therefore presumably had been down to his local bike shop once or twice full of artistic intent.

If Picasso didn’t actually utter those words, he should have. On the chance that he didn’t, and left the field open, I’ll grab the line myself: the bicycle is humanity’s highest and purest form of sculpture. Says me.

It’s true, too. Anyone who has ever attended a hand-made bicycle show, and seen the beautifully crafted machines on display, and felt the restless stirrings and childhood longings they impart, knows exactly what I mean. Art is meant to transport us, and what form of sculpture can you think of that accomplishes this better than a bicycle? Literally, emotionally, metaphorically, we are moved, and with an almost effortless grace.

But what you see on display at these shows are merely the end results of an unseen creative process that is itself surprisingly beautiful and involving. I was privileged to be able to watch Mark Reilly, the master frame-builder at Enigma build the frame of my classic touring bicycle – eight lengths of Columbus Spirit tubing, cut and mitred by hand, joined with pretty lugwork and brazed with silver.

I’ve always loved the ideal of a hand-made steel frame, and, like many another aficionado, felt I possessed a deeper understanding and connoisseurship of these things than I really did. It wasn’t until I had this opportunity to watch a master frame-maker hand-craft a frame before my eyes that I came to have any real inkling of the degree of artistry and artisanship all this involves, let alone an idea of the visual beauty of the frame-building process itself.

Mark kindly allowed me to photograph him while he built my bicycle. Here is a selection of those images:

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