Six Years and Counting . . .
First published Wednesday 6th January 2021
My sixth year of working as an artist started with me furiously painting for my Solo exhibition at Thirsk Racecourse following my 2005 stint there as Artist in Residence. I was also travelling to Lincoln to work with Ruddocks Printers on a Limited Edition Print combining five of my Racecourse paintings, each with a numeric title, each inspired by elements I saw in racing: colour; light; scale; movement; power; along with a printed wallet of notelets. The exhibition followed with the opening Preview evening on the 7th June, where I exhibited 40 artworks (over half of which were paintings of horseracing). The exhibition ran for a week and was a great success, though I must not look the part, as one lady entered the room and approached one of my friends who was there as a greeter, saying "Oh you must be the artist!". To be fair, Vicky is tall, slim, with long straight blond hair, always elegantly turned out and was wearing a colourful Japanese style top. I think I was dressed all in black, probably red in the face with nerves and most likely attempting to merge into the background.
My favourite painting from 2006 ‘Four’ (below), sold within the first four minutes of the exhibition doors opening.
I am quite happy for my paintings to go on to find their own lives and relationships with their new owners, and have only one of my works hangs in our house - a portrait of my husband's horse, Boris - which was commissioned as a gift for him before we were a couple. Four is one painting I regret selling. Some pieces I regard as 'seminal' (in the meaning of influencing future events or actions), paintings that advanced my work, and from which I learned a lot during the process. Four is one such piece as, again, I found a freedom in my brushmarks in the painting of the horses and the tree (trees are usually not my forte). It is quite a complicated composition that could have been cluttered by too much detail, though my restraint may have been as much about my deadline as about my judgement! The gestural quality that I love is also present and conveys the story of the people caught in time, interacting with the horses as they prepare them to race.
My exhibition was also attended by John Fairley, author of several book on Equestrian Art including Great Racehorses in Art (1985), Racing in Art (1990), The Art of the Horse (1995), and Horses of the Great War (2015), who I had met in my first year as an exhibitor at Bramham. John had commissioned me to paint his daughter's event horse, and very kindly provided me with this quote about my work:
“Ruth Buchanan, especially in her splendid pictures of dressage
and event horses in action, has established herself as an artist of great fluency and finesse, with an insider’s feel for the drama and detail of equestrian competition. But perhaps her most distinctive trait is her gift for capturing the character of both horse and rider, whether in moments of intense concentration, or in the relaxed arena of the practice ground.
Among contemporary artists, few can surpass her portraits of the empathy between the competitive rider and the horse at all stages of those most demanding of sports.”
Another favourite of mine from 2006 is 'Preparation'. This was referenced at Burghley in 2003, as Pippa Funnell warmed up Pimmore's Pride in the collecting ring before the showjumping round that won her the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. I had set the sketch aside, not really knowing how to take it forward until suddenly I knew: Preparation is a deliberately uncluttered, backgroundless piece, observing the focus that Pippa communicates to her horses. The simple act of walking and trotting over a ground pole spoke to me of a ritual repeated many times at home to become almost a calming mantra for both horse and rider, as well as a good exercise to engage the hind leg in preparation for jumping.
I do find that certain horses, riders, hounds etc catch my eye again and again, like preferred muses. I don't think that the reason is purely visual, but an energy, focus or intensity that inspires me to paint.
In a flurry of activity, my second year exhibiting at Bramham International Horse Trials was the week after my exhibition at Thirsk. With breaking down the exhibition in Thirsk, and going straight to Bramham Park to set up, I did not have time to think. Emma continued to work on 'training' me, but I was still self conscious and uncomfortable with talking about my work, and had started to suffer from anxiety attacks (similar to asthma attacks) and nosebleeds at shows, especially those where I had not had a break in-between. I still had to take frequent absences from the stand to go and draw (a form of mindfulness for me). I am writing this, not to elicit sympathy, but to maybe help other artists who suffer the same type of terrors. To let them know that they are not alone in this. I knew I had to persevere to do this side of my job, though I don't advocate my eventual solution, which was to start smoking again after quitting 10 years before! In September, Emma and I again exhibited at Burghley and Blenheim on consecutive weeks and (as drawing breaks were now accompanied by smoke breaks) without incident this time.
My 'other-half' had started to grumble that my expanding stock of original and published works was taking up the spare bedroom at home. So on my return from the shows, we rented a storage space which could also house all the 'furniture' needed for my tradestand. This freed up the spare bedroom for me to claim as an office!
My Christmas card in 2006 again featured my Jack Russell terrier, Riley, looking suitably chastised in this coloured pencil drawing for ‘Talk Turkey’. Many people have since told me that they recognised that look from their own canine companions, especially terriers!