Every Picture Tells a Story: As an artist with Bremont, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood turns clocks into paintings inspired by his life.
by Scott Hickey
Before Ronnie Wood joined the Rolling Stones, the Faces, the Jeff Beck Group, or even his brother Ted’s skiffle band, he was an accomplished artist. Today, the shag-haired slide wizard’s artwork in shown in prestigious galleries and hangs in the homes of notable figures like Bill Clinton and Muhammad Ali. His paintings, especially of fellow musicians, often fetch six figures.
Lately, the pop-culture portraitist has discovered an unorthodox base for his brushwork: clock dials. The idea came about four years ago when Wood met brothers Giles and Nick English, co-founders of British watch company Bremont. After bonding over their passion for fine timepieces, the trio began looking for a project that would bring their worlds together.
As luck would have it, Bremont had just completed the B-1 Marine Clock, the brand’s modern interpretation of the marine chronometer. Invented by British watchmaker John Harrison in the 18th century, this specialized clock revolutionized maritime navigation by allowing sailors, for the first time ever, to determine longitude accurately while at sea.
Wood says he was hooked the moment he saw the clock. “At first, we talked about doing something with watches, but the size of the clock dial offered me more flexibility,” he explains from the road while on tour with the Stones. “It made perfect sense as a canvas.”
Size wasn’t the only factor. “The clock was a marine chronometer too, which resonated with me immediately because of my love of the water,” he says. Water has been a major influence on the 67-year-old’s life, as he explains in his 2007 autobiography, Ronnie: “My brothers and I were the first in my family to be born on dry land; my mother and father were born on barges…Both were water gypsies.” For generations, many of his relatives, including his parents, worked on the barges that moved cargo along the West London canals.
The idea of combining his nautical roots with his other passions proved irresistible to Wood, who agreed to create a series of 14 clocks for Bremont over the course of several years. Each one will be decorated with a unique hand-painted dial and inner case. “Clearly, it was a very personal project for Ronnie,” Giles English says. “That’s why we encouraged him to paint the things that have influenced him most in his life.”
For the first clock, Wood chose an equestrian theme. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved horses,” he says. “They’ve inspired many of my paintings and had a strong influence on my art through the years.” He first learned how to draw horses as a youngster by copying Denis McLoughlin’s illustrations in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual comic books. Years later, he refined his technique at Ealing Art College, which is where Pete Townshend and Freddie Mercury also studied.
The inspiration may have come quickly, but Wood admits that working with a canvas the size of an LP record pushed him out of his comfort zone. “I had to use acrylic-based paints, which I wouldn’t normally use. And I was really constrained by the layout,” he says referring to the displays around the dial. “Despite all that, it provided a great challenge for me and ended up being a lot of fun.”
When the first dial and case were finished, the English brothers visited Wood’s studio to see them. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we were blown away when we saw them,” Giles recalls. One particular detail caught his eye: a human hand near the power reserve indicator. “I asked Ronnie about it, and he smiled and said, ‘It’s a clock. It’s gotta have a hand, right?’ And that’s why it’s so great working with him: he’s very serious about his art, but he never takes himself too seriously.”
The only finished clock has sold already, but it can still be seen on display at Bremont’s London boutique. “The gentleman who bought it wanted other people to enjoy it too, which is why he asked us to keep it on display here,” English says. “Every so often he comes in with his mates. They have a whisky together and admire the clock.”
A longtime enthusiast of wristwatches, Wood took a little time out to share with us details about some of his own favorite timepieces…
This is an excerpt of an article from the all-new September/October 2014 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For the rest of this story, plus features on Beatles gear enthusiast Sam Irlander, Food Network personality (and guitarist) Alton Brown, the watch collections of Ronnie Wood and Elliot Easton, new gear and more, head to the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.