Picture perfect

by Adam Ledlow

LONDON, Ont. – Lance Lowther isn’t just a painter: he captures history on canvas. Through his photo-like depictions of trucking company executives, founders, their families and their trucks, the 60-plus artist has made himself something of a hot commodity in the industry.

Though Lowther has been involved with trucking for over four decades – he got his start designing lettering for the sides of trailers in Sudbury, Ont. back in 1963 – he didn’t start creating “corporate portraits” until about 1986, when Southwestern Express’ Ray Haight came walking into his office. Haight had hired Lowther to redesign the company logo (which is the current MacKinnon Transport logo, featuring a truck riding off into a red desert sunset) but also took note of some paintings of trains that Lowther had done and kept in his office.

Haight was impressed with Lowther’s fine attention to detail with the trains and asked if he would paint his new 1987 Kenworth. Lowther agreed, and spent the winter creating what would be the first of many portraits for trucking companies and their employees.

Though his work with Haight helped him secure work creating a series of truck-bearing collector plates, it wasn’t until 1992 that Lowther caught his big break in the industry. That year, he was asked to go to the Ontario Trucking Association convention to demonstrate his skills, and he found himself bombarded by executives asking for his services. That convention made Lowther realize how greatly many people in the industry desire to have their history captured on canvas.

“It wasn’t just about the truck anymore,” Lowther mused. “It’s very interesting because you’re working on their emotions to capture a feeling and sometimes they’ll just bawl. The story is just so emotionally touching to some of these people that when they start talking about it, the walls come down and they share some really personal things.”

Capturing those emotions that often come with reliving a company’s past is part of what makes Lowther’s paintings so effective. A lot of time and research goes into each painting, which usually takes at least three months to complete. The customer will often have a general concept of what they want to see in the painting, but after sitting together with Lowther, telling stories and looking at old family photo albums, new ideas often begin to form. He remembers once spending three days with a company before he felt he knew enough about its history to do the painting, though usually he has enough to go on within a few hours.

One way Lowther ensures his paintings capture his subjects’ essence is by taking his own photographs.

“The painting has so much more life when I do the photos myself because I ask them to laugh or grin to see how their face changes. You can spend one or two days just on each person’s face.”

Lowther’s picture-perfect painting style has won him several admirers in an industry where attention to detail is revered.

“Right from day one, I just couldn’t see this impressionist thing, especially when I was painting the railway stuff,” he said. “Those people want to see every detail; every nut and bolt. It turns out truckers were the same. They wanted to see the real thing.”

But those minute details aren’t just limited to the trucks. Upon first glance, the people in Lowther’s paintings might seem to be just strangers and pedestrians on the street, but each individual is in fact a real person.

One of Lowther’s favourite paintings and an excellent example of this detail is a work he created for Atripco back in January 2005 (see pg.36). There are several people pictured on the street who appear to be just pedestrians, but are actually family and friends of company founder, Ivan Service. Service’s father is seen twice in the painting (loading one truck and driving another) despite the fact he died in 1959.

“It’s almost like he’s still working for the company,” Lowther said.

As with the Atripco painting, Lowther will usually start off with a handful of people who are intended to be in the painting, but then once he’s commissioned, people will start thinking who else they can include.

Though it adds greatly to the look and personal value of the painting, the more people and trucks you choose to include, the longer you’ll have to wait to get the finished product.

“I’ve done it quicker than (three months) in the past but it almost killed me. There’s no way you can get detail without spending time – lots of time.”

Lowther says he knows of other artists who create a similar painting faster, but they miss all the fine details that really turn trucker’s cranks.

“When these guys look at a painting and they can see every nut and bolt, they’re just thrilled. You can skip those details and they’ll still say that they’re happy with it, but they’re really not.”

Starting at $10,000 a pop, the paintings are not a cheap purchase, but an investment most have found very rewarding. Despite the price tag, Lowther says once people see his ultra-realistic works, he proves to be a difficult painter to brush off.

“As soon as people see what I do, they start thinking. Sometimes they won’t commission themselves the first time they talk to you, but they go home and they start thinking, ‘I’d really like to see this. I’d really like to see that.’ That’s when they start getting excited.”

To contact Lowther about his paintings call 519-439-5366.

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