Name to know: Geo Ham

14th July 2020

Visitors to Classic Motorcycle Mecca are forgiven if they can’t peel their eyes from the classic motorcycles our collection calls home. After all, our Invercargill motorcycle museum is New Zealand’s largest and most diverse, boasting more than 300 classic motorcycles from Indian and  Henderson to BMW and Brough Superior.

But, if you can bear it, make sure you take a moment to tear your eyes away from the metallic, wheeled works of art to check out the walls.

Classic Motorcycle Mecca is home to some of the rarest classic motorcycles in the world, as well as a spectacular collection of artwork celebrating everything two-wheeled.

Among them are several prints of artworks from renowned French illustrator Georges Hamel – better known as Geo Ham.

Visitors to Classic Motorcycle Mecca can view Geo Ham’s ‘Pilote au casque Rouge’ – the lithograph from 1935 is among his better-known works, and captures the intensity of motorcycle racing – as well as the vibrant Motobecane Circuit d’Anjou, and a rare BSA advertising poster laid on linen depicting one of the British manufacturer’s motorcycles fording a country stream at speed, from 1953.

Widely regarded as one of the finest automotive poster artists of all time, Geo Ham was born in Laval, France in September 1900 and it was reportedly a mere handful of years before the young boy began showing a real knack for beautiful illustrations.

His inspiration came from two events early in life – first, in 1911, when a biplane piloted by a local politician tossing out leaflets flew over, and landed in, Georges’ hometown. Just two years later, in 1913, a race of motorcycles and cars was organised and held in Laval. These two events purportedly captivated young Georges, and inspired him to begin sketching. He was fascinated by things that moved.

At the age of 18, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs (National School of Decorative Arts) in a bid to make a paid career out of his passion.  At just 20, under the pseydonym “Geo Ham”, he was commissioned to draw his first cover for the French car magazine Omnia.

By the mid-1920s, Geo Ham’s work was being published on a regular basis and at the turn of the new decade he was widely-regarded as the finest in his field. Geo Ham was eventually commissioned to create the now-iconic Art Deco paintings used to promote events such as the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, among others classic European racing circuits.

(A personal highlight of his life was competing in the 1934 Le Mans race in a two-litre derby. Although fuel problems forced him to withdraw from the race, the experience undoubtedly added to his passion for racing art.)

Geo Ham’s artwork featuring illustrations depicting airplanes and motorcycles – while perhaps lesser-known than those pieces featuring the automobile – were also renowned for their liveliness.

Geo Ham is arguably the most important automobile, motorcycle and aviation artists from the 1920s through to the early post-war period.

Georges Hamel, or Geo Ham, died in Paris in June 1972.