Abbey Walmsley’s strokes of power

 

A sureness of

 

character,

 

grace

 

and power

 

The British born artist spends as much as eight months to finish a painting; from her first sketches to the thousands of meticulous brush strokes that characterize her work. For her latest challenge, she travelled to Jordan to depict ancient Roman chariot races.  “My aim is to make paintings that will stand up with time,” she tells.

 

By Camilla Alfthan

 

 

“I didn’t choose to become an artist, I always knew I was  an artist or that I was going to become one through more and more practice. This aspect of my life I was always very clear on from quite a young age,” tells Abbey Walmsley at her studio in the outskirts of London.

Horses were always a part of her work.

 

“My first work was a series of Arabian horse drawings that I produced in a school summer holiday that were exhibited at a local art exhibition. I was about 14 or 15. And the first horse I ever painted was my first oil painting when I was 16.”

 

How do these animals inspire you  ?

I think the horses inspire me because of their sureness of character, their grace and power and how they use that in their interaction with humans and other animals. I think horses have always been a part of human history and the dynamic relation that we have with horses has produced some of the most incredible moments within history in different cultures and through my art I choose to capture these moments. 

 

“My aim is to make paintings that will stand up with time”

 

What are your preferred subjects ?

Key cultural and historical events that feature horses in a dynamic psychological interaction, because I find that subjects who are posed carry a reduced or artificial meaning. If I communicate a key historical or important cultural event with horses at the centre, I expect the viewer to hear, to smell, and to engage with the animal  – that it’s felt and understood as ‘real’.

Are there any specific challenges in portraying the horses, or features that you like to bring forward ?

Always! If there were none I don’t think I would have had an interest in trying to capture them. For example, in the drawing ‘Race Of Souls’, that depicts Roman chariot racing, there were tremendous challenges. The drawing of the composition as you see it, never existed, although every element of the drawing did exist. The composition had to be put together from elements of material gathered, and understandings formed, by working with the charioteers and the horses within the Roman circus at Jerash in Jordan. This included understanding about how the horses moved when they were racing, how the surfaces reacted to the motion of the chariots, and how to capture the environment of the original Roman circus, all with the perspective and perceptive understanding of compositional elements that the viewers can see. The challenge as I saw it within this artwork, was to present a genuine, historically accurate moment in time, depicting the beginning of a chariot race, with the chariots released from the arched start gates. The job of this composition was to put all the elements together with enough accuracy, and the appearance of motion, to fool the viewer in believing it really happened.

You did many equestrian assignments. Which was your favourite ?

My favourite was probably capturing the material for the painting ‘100th Running White Turf.’ This involves standing in the middle of frozen lake St Moritz in Switzerland, witnessing the flat racing on ice. It was a difficult and demanding environment not just because or the temperature and its effect on the equipment, but also because of the intensity of light that bounced off the white surfaces and made it very difficult to gather high enough quality images of racehorses galloping at 40 mph. Every time the horses past you could feel the ice creek, and in a matter of seconds you had to duck to avoid all of the kickback from the horses coming down on your head in large lumps of frozen compacted snow.

 

“I created Dynamic Realism because I felt that there was another stage in the evolution of the realist genre” 

 

I spent a lot of time on the lake, trying to determine the right position, the right height, the way light worked, all to try and access elements I wanted to go into the composition of the painting. Once we gathered material that would assist the building of the painting, the elements of the painting were mapped out. And I became confident that the painting could be produced in a way that really captured the the essence of my time on the lake.

In a world that moves faster than ever you’ve chosen a meticulous form of “slow art ” while portraying movements; why is that  ?

This is a really good question. I created Dynamic Realism because I felt that there was another stage in the evolution of the realist genre. I was inquisitive as to what that evolution would be, and I set out to explore the world of realism to find ways of conveying form and psychology of subjects as effectively as possible and in an manner that is truly ‘original’. It was very clear early on that the manner of painting I had begun to develop meant that it took a long time to produce an artwork that in my mind was good enough, and that had the impact on the viewer that I wanted. Dynamic Realism is not an art form that can be rushed, it is not an art form that forgives corner cutting when trying to apply the paint or pencil. It has become a realism that is sought by collectors wanting truly original and unique artworks that have captured a moment that to them is important both culturally and personally. They understand that the artworks are produced with the care, attention and philosophy that will always show them as works of high craftsmanship and artistry that is rare to find in the contemporary art market, that seems obsessed with fashionable art that is produced quickly and sold as fast as possible, art as interior decoration rather than art respected as a piece of fine art.

 

“One of my aims is to highlight important cultural subjects that are sometimes at risk, and yet deserve greater understanding and admiration” 

 

 

How much time did you spend making your latest equestrian art work ?

The ‘Race Of Souls’ drawing took six months to complete. It took such as long amount of time, because I was trying to challenge my artistic ability with new obstacles. After all, the hardest thing for a realist artist is to create something that never existed in the first place. Even to understand motion blur in relation to the sand in the foreground took weeks.

You’re very engaged in the environment; could you tell us about that ?

I‘m always keen in giving back to the communities or the animals and the people that have allowed me to capture the moments that are shown in my artworks. I normally provide a percentage of print sales to particular organisations that support the activities captured in the artworks. One of my aims is to highlight important cultural subjects that are sometimes at risk, and yet deserve greater understanding and admiration for what they have come to mean.

 

Parts of your work evolves around wildlife and the course of nature. “The Killing scene” in your portrait is  very masculine – very unusual for a woman to make . 

It would not be the first time that my artwork is described as ‘Masculine’. Personally I do not believe in the genderization of art. What am I supposed to paint? Flowers in pastel colours? Soft rolling landscape?

 

What I strive to paint is the psychology of a moment. It is in these moments that you can create resonance with a viewer, the painting stops them, causes contemplation and realisation. These are moments of suspension, of threat, of love. It is a body language, a recognisable moment of tension, the second which encapsulates meaning.

I try to get my viewers involved in a work – to feel it, whether they like it or not.

Artworks like this are more than just descriptive and decorative. They seek a higher appreciation, an understanding for what went into the work and the effect the work can cause. This to me is the essence of true art, it is the ‘why’ behind some of the greatest works recognised by the art world throughout the centuries.

 

“What I strive to paint is the psychology of a moment. It is in these moments that you can create resonance with a viewer, the painting stops them, causes contemplation and realization.”

 

 

Why and how did you paint the Indian?

This painting was created following a long trip down to Montana to work with the Native American Tribe originally involved in The Battle of the Little Big Horn. I worked with Indian re-enactors over the week and on the date of the original battle. It was very important to get everything in alignment – the weather, time of day, surface of the terrain, markings on horse and dress of the rider and so on to make this painting as historically accurate as possible. I also gathered material of Pow-Wow’s and Indian Rodeo’s based on the Indian reservations whilst I was in Montana. The richness of Native American Indian Culture is very striking.

 

I called the painting ‘Dauntless’ because the painting depicts ‘Crazy Horse,’ known for being dauntless in battle and one of the most iconic Native American Indians. This painting shows Crazy Horse in a moment of calm stillness as his horse walks forward through the long grass in the heat of the day, after the brutality of the massacre of General Custer and his men.

From the material I gathered in Montana I went back to Vancouver where the painting was created over a number of months. Since then the painting has been exhibited in the US and the UK. One of the reasons for creating this artwork was to continue the expansion of Dynamic Realist works exploring culture and history and I was presented with the opportunity to include Native American Indians. I gathered much material from this trip that could be used to create larger battle paintings for commissioning patrons with a passion for American History.

 

What’s next ?

There are a number of equestrian subjects I would like to explore. One of these is working further with historical moments for example: Arabian Knights on a cavalry charge in the desert would be very appealing. I also like looking at the roots of something for example of the original roots of Polo, so perhaps a trip to the Himalayas to witness a game of polo where it originated will happen at some point in the future.    

 

www.abbeywalmsley.com

The richness of Native American Indian culture is very striking.

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