Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Video

In the past week I've been asked several times for my opinion of the Scott Blasi video that was secretly shot by a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in case you're not hep). As I grow older and hopefully gain some wisdom with the years, I've made it my philosophy to thoughtfully respond rather that react with a knee-jerk emotion, even though initially, I did. I admit it. Here's a link to the video...I warn you, it's not easy to watch. Forget about Blasi's profanity...like it or not people, it's a lot of the culture. And forget about the young woman who shot the video, she's a minor player.

I perused PETA's website. I wanted to inform myself what they are all about, something they don't always reciprocate toward their targets. Their mission is to bring attention to and end the perceived cruelty of factory farms, the clothing industry, laboratory testing and the entertainment industry involving the use of animals. There's also an extensive Wikipedia article which appears non-biased. PETA freely admits to using guerrilla tactics which they say is necessary to gain attention to animal abuses and exploitation. Some of these tactics are extreme, even getting themselves labeled as a terrorist threat by certain organizations.

The video is alarming, to put it mildly. As a former race tracker of twenty-five plus years, I recognize many of the practices and procedures illustrated. Most are legal and therapeutic. However, it doesn't make a case for ethics or what is humane. I was extremely upset and disturbed. I know what I know. However, here's were I take issue as do most of my peers: the supposedly seven hours of recording were sliced and cut down to nine and a half minutes of what I can only deduce to be the worst and the most damning in order to further PETA's overwrought campaign against horse racing. This is where PETA fails.

The horse racing industry is made up of some the hardest working people on the planet. The vast majority love their horses, take exemplary care of them, and always put their horse's needs first long before their own. Why else would someone work seven days a week all day long for months on end at something they didn't have an insane passion for? Of course there will always be the abusers everywhere. Heck, there are many, many who shouldn't have dogs and cats.

I'm not making excuses. I had to ask myself: can PETA, who spends so much time, money and effort, often putting themselves in harm's way in order to champion the cause of animals be all that bad?

The talking heads of all the major racing organizations are “gravely concerned” and “launching investigations” into the matter portrayed in the video. Why does it take something like this to institute badly needed change? I'm not an executive, nor do I possess the business acumen but hello, the need for nationwide, consistent rules and regulations and the consistent enforcement of said rules has been requested by the horse people themselves for a long, long time. Not only do unscrupulous trainers exist, but also unscrupulous owners who in my opinion should also bear responsibility and be called to task in these situations.You know them, the ones who instruct their trainers to "win at all costs."

It's a great game when it's played fairly,

Monday, March 17, 2014

God's Horse

I've recently completed two new racing paintings. Feels so good to spend some time with the Muse. We still get along great and had some enlightening conversations!

A photographer friend sent me a series of sequential shots of horses breaking out the starting gate at Saratoga. Taken last summer, they were excellent, and I asked his permission to use them as reference for a painting I had in mind. His photos were taken somewhere between the 3/4 to the 5/8 pole from the main stable area. I manipulated the space – in his photos the grandstand in the background was much nearer so I ended up using one of my photos to push the iconic building back. Also, there wasn't one single photo of the horses that I based my painting on. I didn't like the heads in this one and preferred the legs in that one, etc. You get the idea, it's a compilation (not that they weren't outstanding photos, I just have a feel for what makes a suitable composition for a painting). My friend was wondering if I used Photoshop to put together the perfect photo. Nope, there were several preliminary drawings made until I had the image just right. Like I'm that talented with Photoshop...I wish!

Here's the piece with the info, clickhere.

Saratoga Break, oil on canvas, 30"x40"
Two summers ago Ron Turcotte visited my booth at Saratoga and asked why I had never painted Secretariat. I uncomfortably mumbled something about not painting champions unless commissioned, feeling quite stupid. Champions? Secretariat is THE CHAMPION, Super Horse, God's Horse, the Tremendous Machine! And here was the famous Triple Crown jockey in my booth, admiring my artwork, not seeing any paintings of his favorite and one of the greatest racehorses ever. EVER.

I've had some time to think about that meeting and now sheepishly admit that for an artist who has made a career of painting horse racing, I've missed the boat. And why did it take me almost two years to get “it?” Well, that's another story entirely but suffice to say, I didn't just paint Secretariat, I immersed myself in the history of his greatness. He ignited a passion and sent me on a journey to discover the entire remarkable story.

I began with watching the Disney move (again). Inaccurate to a fault in the details of track life but a great story regardless as it clearly illustrates the courage of Penny Chenery. Then I watched the classice ESPN documentary (again and again), loving the shock and awe of the sports reporters who convered his racing triumphs. I watched the real Belmont race (over and over, with chills every time). That race is a marker in the personal history of so many. If you are old enough to have witnessed it live, you'll always remember where you were and who you were with. Then it was off to the library to pour over some books, especially the one authored by Penny Chenery's daughter Kate, Secretariat's Meadow, who wrote a lovely portrait of her mother's relationships with all the connections. Then I consulted my Muybridge book to see how extreme I could portray the stride of a great race horse. In my opinion, there are two points in the all-out running stride that effectively dipict the dynamism characteristic of this magnificent animal. One is when all four feet are off the ground and the other is the one I've portrayed – the hind legs have just powerfully pushed the massive body forward, the extension of the shoulders and neck reveal tremendous musculature while the front legs act like the spokes of a wheel. Oh yes, God's Horse. 
Click here for the info.

Secretariat, oil on canvas, 24"x36"
I hope Ron will be pleased.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Winter Blahs Be Gone

After an insufferably long and frigid winter up here in the north country, I'm ready to get cranking. Some new opportunities have presented a respite from the dark and cold hibernation season. The positive side to all this is the necessity to stay in the studio and get some serious painting done. And I have.

Three commissions, a foxhunting piece and a Saratoga inspired painting are completed. Another racing canvas is in the works and that should - should - take me up to warmer weather. The racing paintings will become giclees and a possible poster for the track meet this summer. Something for those of you who visit my booth every year and ask "so what have you got new?"

After my tentative foray into plein air painting in the paddock and in the stable area last summer, I continued to paint outside until it became too cold. Okay, I'm a weenie and went back inside when temps dropped below forty degrees. However, I absolutely loved it! Loved it enough to get the nerve to apply to my first plein air competition being held in Finger Lakes, NY in June. To my astonishment, I was accepted! Let me tell you that I will be in excellent, experienced company. (begin nail biting)

Dusk at the Lake, 11"x14" oil on canvas plein air

One of my steeplechase paintings has been chosen by the High Hope Steeplechase in Lexington, KY for their program cover. Last year the meet was cancelled so I'm thrilled it's back as it's one of my favorite venues. My artwork will be rotated lengthwise to accommodate their format. Should be an interesting design.

Here's a photo of the creek less than fifty yards from our new house. Taken just today so you don't think I'm a total wimp for not getting out and painting...yet.

Think spring!