Written by Melanie Wright
I am delighted to have been invited to be Artist in Residence at Newmarket, by The British Racing School.
The residency project will allow me to spend part of each month, in Newmarket, based at The BRS, painting a range of subjects from this historic centre of flat racing. It starts this month, and will continue over the next 16 months, culminating in an exhibition towards the end of 2019. It presents a wonderful opportunity for me to explore artistically, the many visually interesting aspects of the flat racing world and focus on building a body of artwork that will encapsulate my experience there. The scale and concentration of the horse racing business in the town is awesome, with over 80 resident trainers and over 3000 horses in training. I shall be spoilt for choice and the challenge is going to be choosing the locations and subjects from such a large pool of inspiration!
The British Racing School (www.brs.org.uk) itself provides a fascinating behind the scenes insight into the training of the racing industry’s staff, from jockeys to trainers and stable staff. A centre of training excellence, this Charity is on a mission to bring more young people into the UK racing industry, through education, training, and placement. They do an incredible job, running a continuous programme of courses with leading instructors, and the busy hive of activity in their own yard and gallops, will be a fascinating ongoing subject for me to observe and sketch.
Outside of the BRS itself, and facilitated by their invaluable introductions and recommendations, I shall be working at The Rowley Mile and July Course racecourses, Trainers yards, stud farms and spending plenty of time out on the iconic gallops watching the strings of horses being ridden out. A favourite subject. And with the wide open green spaces and big skies of Suffolk, an interesting change of scenery and backdrops to paint through the seasons. Iconic locations such as Warren Hill, The Limekilns, Pegasus Stables and Shadwell Stud are so familiar. It is a huge thrill to be exploring these places and others, in an artistic capacity, and to find myself walking in the footsteps of inspirational equestrian artists of the past, such as Alfred Munnings and John Skeaping,
My own painting practice dynamic is old school in approach, yet contemporary in style, with the emphasis very much on keen observation and sketching directly from the subject wherever possible. Multiple studies and notes build a spontaneous record of what I see, and I aim to keep the movement and action loose in style to retain a sense of movement, energy and atmosphere.
Sketching days at The Rowley Mile, Craven Meeting.
This meeting kicks off the flat racing season at Newmarket and coinciding with the best weather to date this year, my sketching visits were blessed by glorious light and sunshine. After a soggy and long, dark, winter and the often bitterly cold National Hunt season, this was a welcome sight. And a great start to the residency. The horses’ coats were gleaming and in fabulous condition, the jockeys silks shone, and the crowds were all in celebratory mood. Great atmosphere.
With a wide variety of inspirational sketching locations to consider, I found myself drawn mainly to the paddock area to observe the horses paraded both before each race and then the winners ridden back into the enclosure afterwards to be applauded and cooled off. A timeless subject, and with the circular procession, a good sketching rhythm can be established, as they come and go.
My lead pencil exploratory sketches start off as abstract marks to establish a direction and pattern of movement, which I then return to where possible to build detail. I sketch the compositions and play with scale and the arrangement of notes on a page, written and sketched, anything that catches my eye or imagination. Sketching for me, is where the concentrated focus and magic connection comes. Of course I also make a photographic reference record for later on in the studio, but this can never replace the immediate connection that is made through the coordination of eye, hand and heart.
Sketching from another excellent place, high up in a Grandstand box, I accessed fabulous views across the course and a bird’s eye view of the race spectators below, forming interesting figurative groups casting long shadows in the brilliant sunlight.
Of the many stunning horses I watched, including offspring of the legendary Frankel, I have to mention Masar, who I was fortunate enough to observe from inside the parade ring and then go on to win the Craven Stakes in great style. What a fabulous looking, bright chestnut horse. With the Godolphin blue silks. A real eye catcher.