Context: ‘The (not-so) Grand National’ – A contemporary portrait artist response


16 Mar 2023   |  Journal

Expressionist-portrait-artist-James-Green
‘The (not-so) Grand National’
145 x 155cm
Mixedmedia on unstretched canvas
2023

It’s probably worth kicking this off by saying that the following piece of writing isn’t necessarily based on my own personal opinions – but more research-led curiosities. As a person, I’m restlessly curious and not only do I feel it’s my job to question everything in life – it’s also just the way I am. And as an artist, my curious mind feeds & furthers my practice more than perhaps I’ll ever know. I enjoy visually exploring the questions that are raised by my inquisitive mind through my raw, instinctive, & intuition-led paintings… which is what this post is all about…

Context: ‘The (not-so) Grand National’ – An expressionist portrait artist response

With The Grand National around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the whole thing in greater detail. We’ve all heard the tales of what happens to the horses that don’t leave the starting gates  /̵͇̿̿/’̿’̿ ̿ ̿̿ ̿̿ ̿̿  … This concerning idea led me to undertake a little inquisitive research, which brought to the surface some pretty alarming insights, including:

A total of 59 horses have been killed as a result of racing at the three-day Grand National Meeting since the year 2000 [Click here for source].

I mean, I’m all for fun (I myself bet on a few races here and there) but sh*t-the-bed… I wasn’t fully aware of the extent. I mean of course that wouldn’t be publicised given how lucrative the event is (£300million is spent on the single main event in the UK alone).

Animal Aid [LINK] are the leading campaign group that calls for a ban on the world’s most dangerous horse race, the Grand National.

Taken from the company’s website:

“The Grand National is a deliberately perilous horse race that is staged at Aintree Racecourse in England. It’s run over a stamina sapping four-and-a quarter miles and has 30 hazardous fences that, the 40 horses who take part, are forced to jump. Throughout its history the race has been infamous for killing horses.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is responsible for race horse welfare but has failed to curb the number of fatalities at the course, as well as at other racecourses across Great Britain. In an ongoing campaign, Animal Aid has asked the government for the BHA to be replaced with an independent body that would take meaningful action to stop horses from losing their lives.”

I wrote recently about my approach to visual art [LINK] where I explained how I try to paint in a ‘connected’ way, relying on the present moment to dictate the direction for my work. With that being said, although I didn’t plan this painting, I intuitively created the now-titled ‘The (not-so) Grand National’ – which I now in retrospect understand expressively explores my questions & concerns around the three-day event.

What do you mean by intuitively / what was the process?, I hear you ask…

Following my research into the event as noted above, I ended up down a rabbit hole of exploring the horse paintings and drawings by Salvador Dali; which must’ve intuitively inspired me in some way. It’s a rather peculiar feeling staring at a blank canvas and having no idea what’s about to happen. Prior to painting, I try to centre myself (often using meditation) within the present moment and it’s no surprise that, more-often-than-not, my visual work tends to reflect my then current personal concerns, curiosities, and life experience. I guess that’s part of the beauty of expressionism.

After the initial layering process over a period of a few weeks or so, a loose and gestural horse announced itself next a male figure. It was in this moment that I realised what this painting was all about. The male figure seemed to be reaching for something. Which is what prompted the application of the signed spud-gun that I had laying around the studio… which was purchased due to my dismay that Paris artist Monsieur Jamin [LINK] had no idea what a spud-gun was… naturally I spent most of the day shooting him with it when he came to work with me in my Cotswold (Stroud) studio [LINK]. I’ve kept hold of this spud-gun for a good few years – feeling sure that it had a novelty role to play in my future visual work in some way. Read into the painting as you will!