By Barry Russell
The world of motorcycle racing lost one of its greatest and most revered artists when Gareth 'Gruff' Jones succumbed to grade four brain cancer on 6th March after a courageous three year battle with the disease.
Gruff's unique ability to bring excitement and insight to his canvasses came from his long racing career on short circuits and the roads and he competed throughout the eighties in the Manx Grand Prix races, taking a fine fifth place in the Newcomers Manx Race.
He began painting in the mid-1980s and focused on being an artist after breaking both of his ankles in a crash on a friend's motorcycle on the Isle of Man Mountain Course in 1988 and being confined to a wheelchair.
Having established himself as one of the sport's great artists he built a successful business, with his work being sort after and collected by legions of fans and top racers including Joey Dunlop, Valentino Rossi, Steve Hislop, Troy Bayliss, John McGuinness, James Toseland, Michael Rutter and many more.
His friends knew him as a realist with an encyclopedic knowledge about the history of motorcycle racing and a wicked sense of humour. This made him a raconteur who could entertain his friends with tales of races of past times and the often hilarious stories that ran alongside them.
Photographer Glynne Lewis, who worked closely with Gruff, recalled, “His feathers rarely got ruffled but when they did it was time to take a step backwards. On the odd occasion he did lose his temper, it would not be long before this likeable man would be handing over a piece of his artwork that you would have purchased from him.
“Gruff was extremely proud when John McGuinness handed Gruff one of his own medals at a past NEC motorcycle exhibition, such was the inherent humility and nature of this hugely popular character.”
Fans and racers alike will miss Gruff's familiar figure, sitting by his trade stand at British Superbike, World Superbike or MotoGP meetings in the UK, rolling a cigarette and chatting about the sport and art that he loved and did so much to convey to the wider world.
Our thoughts are with Gruff's wife Hollie, daughter Carolyne, son Richard and his many close friends and family.
Gruff's funeral will take place on Friday 16th March at 2pm at Pentrebychan Crematorium, Wrexham Clwyd, North Wales LL14 4EP.