Cars are symbols of advancement – you can trace modern history through the automobile not just in terms of technology, but design, aesthetics, taste, how we live and work and play. And, of course, some cars offer pure pleasure – visual, emotional, intellectual. These days it’s pretty clear to me why I write about cars, yet my journey to automotive journalism was a bit circuitous.
Childhood was all about making art and writing stories. So I enrolled in a London art school where I experimented with paint, print, etching and collage to create large-scale colourful abstractions; and building sculptures from metal, plaster, ceramics and glass. It was a hugely creative period. A short disappointing spell in textile and fashion design, and I completed my postgraduate studies in design history. It was a relatively new field then, created as an offshoot of art history for a more contemporary analysis of design, of how it impacts on life and living. It felt like the natural choice.
Yet, on graduation I was clueless as to what to do. So I moved around the globe, a small bag and few belongings. I worked in galleries and with charities, until I landed a job in a small publishers of travel books. It had never occurred to me to write about cars – at the time there was hardly any contact between the world of art and design, and automotive.
Then, one day browsing through the then new and pioneering Wallpaper* magazine, I came across an intriguing article on car design by one of my former university professors. At the same time, the likes of Stephen Bayley, someone whom I greatly admired, was actively creating a dialogue between these worlds too at the London Design Museum. The boundaries were blurring. Suddenly it felt natural to love design and cars.
And so I got my first job, in the very deepest corner of the auto world. On the editorial staff of Automotive Engineer, I learnt all about what hides beneath the beautifully sculpted bonnet. I studied the engine, future tech, electric cars, fuel cells. These were tough years, and I missed my former life, but it was a great learning centre for now, as a freelance journalist, I feel I can write about car design and car culture with a little more depth – I hope!
The auto world has since changed. The car is seen as part of a bigger picture that includes design, architecture, urbanism, sustainability and so on. This is especially noticeable as the vehicle moves closer and closer to being a tech gadget, as ecological concerns impact on material choices, and especially as manufacturers from outside the traditional automotive world start making cars.
Now I can get wonder at how the car can induce change in society, help make cities cleaner and more efficient, and commuting safer and more productive.