18.11.2014 My Kingdom for a Horse
CHARLIE LANGTON – MY KINGDOM FOR A HORSE
16TH NOVEMBER 2014 / BY NINA HOOFT GRAAFLAND
The current golden boy of equine art, Charlie Langton is making his mark on the contemporary art world. His unique and individual style has distinguished him as one of the most exciting and inspiring sculptors of our time. In recent years, since the YBAs, there has arguably been a trend among contemporary artists to create shocking, innovative and controversial work. Charlie Langton’s work – that’s within the tradition of realism – therefore comes as a refreshing change.
Langton is best known for his work on a number of high-profile horse sculptures, in the last few years including Yeats, Goldikova, Pegasus, Galileo, Sadler’s Wells, Montjeu and most recently Kauto Star, which will be unveiled at Kempton Racecourse on Boxing Day this year.
Having spent his childhood surrounded by horses it’s no wonder they are his inspiration. Both his great uncle and mother bred racehorses and by the age of six, Charlie was fortunate enough to have a small Welsh Mountain pony of his own. Horses have always been an integral part of his life, and are a natural subject to him.
After studying fine art at Edinburgh College of Art, Charlie proceeded to spend one and a half years training at the prestigious Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence. It was there that he gained a deep appreciation for the works of the Old Masters and refined his academic and technical skills. Charles Cecil teaches the importance of observing from life and understanding the form through light and shade by way of the sight-size technique. “Being surrounded by works from the Renaissance,” explained Charlie, “By the master sculptors such as Donatello, Michelangelo and works by the ultimate universal man, Leonardo da Vinci, highlighted the importance of knowing your subject to a level that is rarely, if at all, accomplished in art today.” When asked what advice Charlie would offer to a young artist, his response was rather appropriately “study Leonardo da Vinci.”
So what is it that makes him so successful as a sculptor? The real art of sculpting, Charlie believes, is to truly know your subject. For him, observing their character and understanding the nature of a particular horse is paramount to achieving its final likeness. The initial stage of the artistic process is spent observing the horse, and chatting to those who know it best – its trainers, riders and owners. This research allows him to create works that so accurately capture the spirit and character of the subject.
Thoroughbreds in particular inspire him. The attitude, character and physicality of the champion racehorses puts them in a league of their own, and it is their unique combination of power speed, elegance and grace that Charlie finds so compelling.
Charlie’s first life-size public commission was a hugely high profile one. Selected by Ascot to
create a bronze statue depicting the four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats, his work had to meet high expectations. The sculpture was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen on the first day of Royal Ascot in 2011 to a warm reception, and it still takes pride of place at the parade ring today.
The work took 800 hours to complete and the final result is magical. Sinuous, yet powerful in build, every line of the horse flows with grace and elegance. Recalling seeing Yeats race at Ascot a few years ago, Charlie mused: “He is one of the most beautiful horses you will ever see and instantly recognisable in the way that he walks and carries his head, I could not have asked
for a better subject”. He speaks fondly and passionately of Coolmore Stud, the breeding organisation that looks after Yeats in Ireland. On a number of occasions Harry King, the manager at Coolmore Stud, would fly over from Ireland to Charlie’s studio in Wiltshire to watch the sculpture progress, and stay for about 30 minutes before flying back to Ireland.
It was through this that Charlie’s other pubic projects came about. His most recent work, Kauto Star was
commissioned by the horse’s owner by Clive Smith. Charlie was asked to create a 5 per cent over life-size bronze of the great steeplechaser for Kempton Park Racecourse, to be unveiled there on Boxing Day this year. The sculpture was generously donated to the racecourse by Clive Smith and will undoubtedly be admired and coveted for generations to come.
It is evident that Charlie Langton has a promising career ahead of him. You could be forgiven for thinking he may become restless within the arguably limited confines of his subject; however, he insists it’s easy to keep fresh enthusiasm an excitement for the project. “Every champion horse has a unique combination of attributes that sets him apart from the herd, it is the process of trying to establish what these are, and attempting to capture them, that I find so alluring. The thoroughbred could maintain my interest in the horse as a subject for a lifetime.” I for one am excited to see where his unique and extraordinary talent takes him next.
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This year I have been very lucky to have worked on some fantastic commissions.
At the start of the year I was busy sculpting the life-size Pegasus for the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces memorial. It was a long and complicated project but an immensely rewarding one. I owe a huge amount to Mark Jackson “Jacko” who was responsible for involving me in the commission and not only sculpted Bellerophon and the over life-size Paratrooper, but acted as project manager for the commission. This role that took an enormous of amount of time and effort, and the fact that the memorial was delivered on time and budget is testament to his hard work. The project came to an end when the memorial was unveiled by HRH Prince of Wales on the wettest day of the year in mid July. The project involved a huge amount of different crafts and expertise and as a result I feel that I now have a great team of engineers, stonemasons, foundries and transport to make any project, no matter how complicated, work. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish and huge thanks to Jacko and all at the NMA and the Parachute Regiment and Charity for including me in this amazing project. The memorial can be seen at The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It’s a truly inspiring place and well worth visiting.
I was then back to more familiar ground with the very exciting commission of an over life-size bronze of the great Goldikova. The project overlapped with Pegasus as both were unveiled within two weeks of one another. I spent a lot of time in France , initially just before her last race in the Breeder’s Cup last year and then once she had retired at Freddie Head’s yard in Chantilly and then to stud near Deauville. She is a feisty character and I have the bruises to prove it. Measuring her was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. These are the projects that really inspire me. Studying champion racehorses and trying to establish what makes them great. I find it fascinating. There was a small private unveiling in early August with Olivier Peslier mounting the bronze for photographs. It was commission that seemed to flow extremely well, thanks largely to all involved with the horse, who could not have been more helpful and accommodating.
There were also installations of two editions of the over life-size editions of Yeats at Coolmore Stud in Ireland. I have done several trips there this year to organise and oversee their installation and also to discuss the new over life-size projects that I’m currently working on for them. These three sculptures are a huge project and I feel extremely privileged to be working on them. There will be more details of these next year, as they develop.
I had a solo exhibition at the Sladmore Gallery in June which seemed to go well. It has always been an ambition of mine to exhibit with Sladmore and I was not disappointed. It was a real pleasure to work with all at the gallery and I look forward to discussing the potential for an exhibition in America, hopefully in the near future.
Recently, I’ve been back in my painting and drawing studio working on sketches of hunters in red chalk and also an oil painting of Harbinger which I will be finishing shortly.
I’ve been very lucky to have been so busy this year and thank you so much for all the support I’ve been given, both in terms of work and words. I’m loving what I do more every year and I hope that next year will be no exception.
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