My Twelfth Year and Olympic Efforts
First published Tuesday 12th January 2021
I was off on my travels again in March of 2012, this time returning to Dubai to stay with my brother again. While I was there, I visited The Albidayer Arabian Stud in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah. I was made most welcome by the stud manager, who accompanied David and I as we saw the various horses that he has arranged to be shown just for us.
‘Stanza’ (painted from references made at Albidayer) and ‘Once In A Lifetime’, (painted earlier in the year using my own horse as a model) were inspired by George Stubbs’ paintings of mares and foals, which I had seen at the exhibition at The National Gallery, London in 2005. I had never really been a fan of Stubbs apart from studying his anatomical drawings, but seeing ‘Whistlejacket’ displayed at the correct height and viewing perspective showed why I had always thought the proportions ‘off’, and I especially appreciated the long, wide paintings of mares and foals on brown backgrounds. My take was to work with horses in sequence movements, though Once In A Lifetime is not a true sequence. Both of these pieces are painted in watercolour, but on coloured pastel paper, which works fine, except that you cannot stretch the paper because the pressure of stretching tears it when wet, so I had to work with a thicker, 'less-wet' paint consistency than usual. I was, however, able to work with white (watercolour, not gouache) paint, and this has remained on my palette ever since. Specifically for Social Media, Once In A Lifetime was painted in sections, which is not my usual process, but demonstrated thorugh from drawing to how I built up layers of paint. When I used that image as a Facebook profile banner for my business page, it got a lot of attention and I subsequently published it as the greetings card: 'Atlaspherics'.
I was happy with the way both pieces turned out, and so, it appears were others in the art world. I had never entered competitions before, but seeing them on social media, I entered Once In A Lifetime for the Ex Arte Equinus and the SAA (Society of All Artists, as it was then) awards. The painting was selected in both instances, and was featured in the Ex Arte Equinus Collections Book VI in 2013. While selected for final judging with the SAA, I am afraid that the letter informing me of such slipped down the back of the desk on which we put the post. By the time I found and opened it, judging was completed. Still I was heartened to be selected in both of my first attempts.
Up until now, I had still been working in ‘the shed’, our garden home office, but it was increasingly cramped. I had met a studio lettings manager for Leeds-based charity East Street Arts, and in March she found me a temporary studio in Knaresbrough. The temporary studios were un-let commercial properties, temporary, as they could still be let commercially at any time. The Knaresborough space was a large first floor modern, open, office space that could house everything from my store as well as my studio space, and I worked there in luxury surroundings and splendid isolation for a year.
2012 had started wet – very wet. With both Chatsworth and Badminton rained off, Bramham in June had to run despite the weather so that the Olympics selection could be made, though the show jumping, hunter showing and young event horses were cancelled. I had received a telephone call from well-known Yorkshire watercolour artist, Les Packham MBE in 2011. He and his wife, Judy, organised The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show, and wanted to come to see me and my work, adn could they come in a couple of hours! I met truly supportive mentors that afternoon. When I tried to show more of my work, Les told me that he had made up his mind with the first painting he saw, though they stayed to 'talk art' for a couple of hours more. Exhibiting at The Art Show (a gallery show in one of the Showground buildings) is by invitation only, with the artists also expected to staff the exhibition and ‘demonstrate’ during the course of the show. I had never really drawn or painted in front of people before, and certainly not in front of an audience, but despite Les suffering a horrendous and debilitating stoke earlier in the year, he and Judy gave me support as I prepared, and I was scheduled for a slot on the 3rd day of the July show. As it turned out, my preparations were in vain. Weeks of heavy rain again disrupted things, with the show being cancelled at the end of the first day. As tractors had been towing vehicles into the car parks on my arrival at 7am, this came as no surprise, so with only one day of exhibition, we had to return the next day to dismantle the show.
I had applied unsuccessfully for tickets to attend the late July-August dressage and eventing competitions at the London Olympics, so had to content myself with television coverage. While watching the Dressage Grand Prix, I noticed that the camera angles were fixed, so the movements were essentially repeated by successive horses. I had the house to myself, so went to fetch paper and charcoal, ending up with nine sketches, on the go at the same time, spread out across the living room floor. Three of the 'London Olympics Dressage Sketches' are seen here.
As the movements and cameras transitioned, I switched drawings to complete the sketches, so these drawings are not one horse, but a compilation of several horses executing one movement. I find that an intriguing concept even now, and though we eventually bought a television that can be paused, have drawn from screen since using the same technique, and have also applied the idea to develop a gestural Life Drawing exercise.
At Burghley in September, I was visited on my stand by Nicola Wilson and her husband Al, who knew me from Bramham. Nicola brought along the Olympic medal she had won at London in eventing with (black) horse Opposition Buzz and allowed me to hold it - it was suprisingly heavy! As they were leaving, Al asked if I had ever painted a black horse (I had, see last year's post), but it set me thinking about a black horse series of artworks to further explore the colours in painting a black horse. At Burghley I also had a visit from the Chairman of the Society of Equestrian Artists. While I had come across the SEA before - Glynis Mills HSEA had spoken to me at Bramham in my first years of exhibiting there, and Malcolm Coward HSEA had seen my work and spoken to me previously at Burghley - the SEA exhibitions times clashed with both Bramham and Burghley. Knowing that my works would be at those shows, I had never pursued membership. In 2012, however, the SEA Art of The Horse exhibition was held later, in November at The Mernier Gallery, London, so I joined the Society as a ‘friend’ (the first level of membership) and all four of my submitted works were juried into the exhibition: ‘Six Boots, Three Shoes’ (see 2007's blog post), ‘Once In A Lifetime’, ‘Stanza’ and ‘Flying’.
Unfortunately, Flying (seen here as exhibited on a German art gallery website) later fell from the wall at my studio due to a faulty picture hanger. The glass smashed and cut a tear into the painting, which was irrepairable.
My work returned from The SEA exhibition just in time for my first ever Open Studio event. Invited guests braved truly appalling weather conditions to attend my studio in Knaresborough, where I set up a gallery to exhibit my work, and people could also see my work stations and works-in-progress. To further illustrate my process, I had some of my current sketchbooks on display for people to flick through, and these proved most popular. I have had a 'sketchbook habit' since I was at school, and a lot of my thought processes are contained in them, along with locations sketches, doodles, ideas, composition and value sketches, colour studies, poems and shopping lists! I really didn't think of them as anything other than my process, but they were the main thing that people wanted to see. I can say that they contain some truly bad drawing, and unfinished attempts, but maybe that is part of the appeal. I think that as artists we can be slaves to the 'perfection imperative', and, even if they keep them, many do not want to show their sketchbooks for this reason. In actuality, I have learned more from 'getting it wrong' than I ever have from getting it right. Now I have an admission that will horrify some. Having moved several times, I got sick of carting around boxes of sketchbooks, which weigh heavily and take up a lot of storage space, so I burned the majority of them before I even started business as an artist. Nearly 100 sketchbooks hit the flames, with only a couple avoiding the cull as they were hiding away from the rest of the library. I 'sort of' regret that now, but at the time it seemed the logical course of action.
My Christmas card this year was ‘Fir Fur’.
I adapted a sketchbook preparatory drawing that I had done for soft pastel piece, ‘Shine’, another in the ‘boot series’ that I mentioned in my story of 2008.
I simply coloured in the sketch with pastel pencil, making the shine of the quarter markings into a Christmas tree and star, turned the rider into a Santa and added words to the saddlecloth and a Christmas message!
Incidentally, Shine is the only one from the boot series (actually a series about depicting texture) that also became a Limited Edition Print. As the long-running Yorkshire TV soap, Emmerdale feature the print in one of their sets, many people have seen Shine on television. There lies a story in the power of the simple flyer. The set department contacted me through a flyer for one of my Open Studio events. The flyer was from a pile that Sam, the landlady of our local pub, The Swan, Bramham, had put out on the bar for me. The mother of the set designer had picked one up, and co-incidentally, the designer was speaking to her a couple of days later about them wanting a horse painting for the show. . . the rest, as they say is (part of this) history. Sometimes it seems like a lot of effort to keep putting my work, flyers, business cards, my website, social media etc, 'out there', and then occasionally it is all proved worthwhile.