Unending muse of the wildest places
Shooting Times & Country|December 23, 2020
Not every sporting artist actually participates in fieldsports but it seems the best work is created by those who do, says Richard Negus
Richard Negus

The millpond-calm Alde reflects a streaked and smudged eastern sky. From these grenadine heavens a pair of teal wing, putting on a touch of right rudder. They are heading towards a splash on the saltings, confident and bold, clearly unaware that behind a tumbledown wooden jetty, a wildfowler and his spaniel crouch in the mud. He has just shown himself, his barrels are swinging on their way to the port position in preparation for a shot.

As a viewer I am torn. The teal are so beautiful that to witness their end is almost saddening but conversely, as a sportsman, I will the fowler to shoot straight and bag his quarry — for these duck are hard won and tasty. This snapshot scene of a flight on the wild foreshore is typical of Simon Trinder’s art. It is a watercolour and hangs on the landing of our cottage. I see it each morning as I trudge to the shower.

I never tire of it — nor the daily reminder that I only succeeded in shooting the cock bird out of that pair of teal.

Sneering

Art is something very personal. I wouldn’t hang a Van Gogh sunflower in a cover crop. Despite this, art experts see fit to be markedly dictatorial, arbitrating with impunity on what is and what isn’t ‘Art’. Rodger McPhail is one of the country’s most successful sporting artists, yet when he started his training more than 45 years ago at the Coventry Art College, his lecturers sneered at his paintings of wildlife — they were not ‘Art’ he was told. They steered him off to Liverpool Art College, where the establishment’s specialism in graphic design would ‘better suit’ his talents.

This snootiness over sporting and wildlife art and artists is surprising; after all, wildlife as a genre is arguably the purest form of art that there is. Examples of human art dating back 40,000 years are found on cave walls, the subject matter predominately being hunters and hunted. These unknown pre-history artists clearly not only sought to portray the image of the animals that provided them with food, clothing, oils and much more, but also to capture the spirit of their quarry and the chase.

Using only natural pigments as paint, chewed twigs for brushes or their mouths as aerosols, they achieved painstaking, soulful works. Such emotion can only be achieved by those who not only closely observe their subjects but have an intimate, almost religious affinity with them.

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