Despite some fine early works, such as a drawing of a jockey adjusting his girth which was acquired by the major Belfast collector Zoltan Lewinter-Frankl just after Blackshaw had left Belfast College of Art, it appears to have been in the mid-1960s that he embarked on the series of paintings of horses exercising that were to occupy him for over a decade and which arguably have become the defining aspect of his work at this period. These subtly evocative works, often on a large scale, rely on a strikingly thin application of paint to define the physical presence and movement of horses on a beach or in an empty landscape where there are few distracting features beyond the pale early morning mist. At times the artist almost seemed to become engrossed in certain abstract details within these works, such as the striped blankets and the hoods that set up an unexpected pattern that runs from one animal to the next. Occasionally, more specific and narrative-driven images began to emerge in contrast to these subtle and atmospheric works, culminating in the exceptionally large 1977 canvas Grand National (Foinavon's Year), which was shown at the Caldwell Gallery in that year alongside a group of smaller works concentrating on the same dramatic subject of horses falling at a fence.
The two present paintings detailing different moments of a point-to-point (lots 75 & 76) and Horses Exercising (lot 74), which appears to belong to the same period, could be seen as a stage between the earlier series of paintings of horses and the later work, of which the 1990 Race Horse (lot 73) is an example. Blackshaw's understanding of the anatomy and movement of horses is still evident, but their energy is increasingly reflected in the treatment of the landscape and sky around them. Horses Exercising (lot 74) maintains the quiet mood familiar from Blackshaw's earlier treatment of this subject, although with a stronger and more wide-ranging use of colour, but already there is a suggestion of expectant tension in the dramatic handling of the sky, while in Striding to the Finish, Point to Point (lot 76), each brushstroke defining the ground and the clouds seems directed towards the leading horse, building a dramatic, shared nervous energy between the animal and the natural world. Colour in these paintings has become slightly less naturalistic, and in Horses at the Start, Point to Point (lot 75), the jockeys' colours become unexpected high-toned notes that are almost at odds with the empty, windswept landscape where they are about to race, which is sketched in loose blurred strokes.
This concentration on the expressiveness of paint becoming equivalent to the animal, rather than simply descriptive, becomes even more striking in the later period of Blackshaw's work. Moving away from a more traditional anatomical analysis of the animal, he attempts to summon up a pictorial expression of the physical experience of the horse through a dynamic, gestural application of paint, the impact of which is exaggerated in the present painting by the claustrophobic placing of his subject so that it occupies the entire shallow foreground of the picture space. The straightforward nature of Race Horse, 1990 (lot 73) could not be more distant from the earlier understated evocations of horses moving easily across a misty beach, but it illustrates the development of Blackshaw's fascination with the animal. The perspectives of other artists through which Blackshaw's initial approach to the equestrian subject was shaped, have slipped away over time and been replaced by a notably individual and direct response, a synthesis of memory and experience formed across a lifetime.
- Auction Details
AUCTION: Monday 26 November at 6pm
VIEWING: Saturday to Monday 24-26 November
VENUE: Royal Dublin Society (RDS), Anglesea Road entrance, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Free car parking for Whyte's clients.
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WHYTE AND SONS AUCTIONEERS LIMITED, 2018.
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