Art exhibition captures ‘speed, chaos, diversity’ of Le Tour

Artist Lu Mason with her installation at York City Screen
Artist Lu Mason with her installation at York City Screen
Artist Lu Mason with her installation at York City Screen

For Lu Mason Le Grand Départ is a “huge circus”. Lu loves the Tour de France and you can see the artistic fruits of her passion in The Peloton, a spectacular piece of work at the City Screen cinema.

She says: “As soon as I heard that the Tour was coming to Yorkshire – and to York – I couldn’t believe it.

“Watching the Tour on TV has been part of summer at my house for many years. I knew I wanted to do my own celebration.”

She also knew that the 15-metre exhibition space on City Screen’s top floor would be perfect for depicting the race.

After last year’s Tour, Lu was provided with some inspiration for the project by her younger son, Laurie, who’s now 25.

Laurie gave her a folder containing pictures of cyclists he had drawn painstakingly between the ages of eight and ten.

Picking up the theme, Lu has drawn, cut out and painted 200 paper cyclists, threading them up so that they hang suspended along the length of the wall.

To that she’s added maps, postcards, and a road with chalk marking of all the Tour winners since it started. There’s also a ‘fantasy tour de France’ with miniature cyclists making their way through dream landscapes.

Lu, an occupational therapist, says: “There’s always been a kind of madness about the Tour de France, ever since the first race in 1903 when cyclists could spend 27 hours in the saddle.

“I’ve tried to represent the ‘long distance’ aspect of the race, the huge challenges faced by the cyclists every day, up and down incredible mountains, risking collisions, technical breakdowns, injury.

“I have the greatest respect for each and every participant – not just the winners.”

But sport brings out the best and worst in us and she doesn’t ignore the way that cycling has been tainted.

Lu says: “The race’s reputation has been deeply damaged by drug-use, particularly during the Lance Armstrong years. This is a legacy today’s cyclists have to live with, good performances are often questioned.”

Click to see the full panorama

The sport’s dark side is reflected in Lu’s roll of honour. She lists former champions but reveals that there were no winners during the two world wars…or during the Armstrong era.

However, it is sport’s ability to unite us, if only briefly, that really appeals to Lu.

She says: “My work is not meant to be taken as serious art. It’s about celebrating the event.

“When something like this happens it unites everyone, and it’s a joyful thing for people to be caught together in a wave of enthusiasm. I like the way that it changes everything just for a short time.

“I love the carnival atmosphere and the stories behind the stories.”

City Screen regulars will be familiar with Lu’s work. She’s exhibited several pieces there on themes from astronomy to birds.

She also helped to create, in a collaborative project, a hanging to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence.

The Peloton can be seen at City Screen until the end of the month. That will make it rather easier to catch than the event itself.

Lu says: “The Tour will affect every aspect of York while it is here.

“However, it will be gone in a flash – for all us spectators lining the route we won’t see more than a few seconds’ worth as it flashes by.

“I have tried to capture the speed, chaos, diversity, individuality, and atmosphere of the Tour in this exhibition.”