Jeremy Houghton has produced a wealth of vibrant and exciting work. His sporting pictures are wonderfully evocative.
Jeremy Houghton’s work is all about the spaces in between, which somehow convey the realities of the sports he depicts more convincingly than any amount of photographic detail. The forbidding black birch of a Grand National fence thrown into menacing relief; a pale winter sky filled with the dark punctuation marks of geese; hunters steaming at the end of a best hunting day over hedge or moor. Houghton has developed his own technique for creating those telling, light-filled gaps.
JEREMY HOUGHTON SPORTING ARTIST
“I paint in watercolour but the white that you see is the white of the paper. To make that happen I use masking fluid, which I paint precisely on to the areas of the paper that I want to leave white. This provides a seal against the watercolour paint and then it is a laborious task to paint what is really a negative image using a very fine brush, covering the paper. I tend to think in the negative – all of my paintings, even those that are not monochrome, are always like this. I never actually paint the positive form.
“This has been instinctive for me right from the beginning at school,” he remembers. “I have always painted the edges. It just feels like a very natural process for solving that challenge of turning the three dimensions we see into two dimensions on paper. The irony with the paintings is that once they are finished, and you rub off the masking fluid, the white bits then revealed are the most important elements though they haven’t actually been painted. They provide the viewer with all the interest and all the answers.”
TRAINING AT THE SLADE
Houghton trained at the Slade School of Art and the Université de Provence before teaching art in South Africa. But it was coming back home to Broadway in the Cotswolds that inspired his distinctive work. “I live in the little cottage that I was born in and my grandfather lived here,” explains Jeremy Houghton. “He was the village doctor in Broadway from the Thirties so of course he visited all the local houses and he was fascinated by the history of the village. He used to collect old photographs and when his patients heard about that he would get given all these lovely old photographs and memorabilia, which he put into albums and scrapbooks and compiled a history of Broadway. I have now got his collections, 12 volumes of old photographs and cuttings, and I think they are wonderful things to have, not just because they are from my grandfather but because they are interesting in their own right. These images have influenced my work; they add a strong sense of place. They suggest the continuity of this way of life, which is very much part of who I am.”
ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
This philosophy made Jeremy Houghton the obvious choice to undertake a project for Prince Charles, as artist in residence at Highgrove, which he completed last year. “Highgrove was amazing and I was allowed to take my easel wherever I wanted. Having done a fair amount of wandering around I decided to go beyond the garden fence and look at the farming and the rare breeds and all the characters and tell that part of the story, which is so important because through his traditional farming methods Prince Charles is showing how you can have a farm in the 21st century and how it can be successful whatever scale. It worked for me because my paintings are about time and history. I try and evoke a feeling of timelessness in the paintings so you look at them and think, ‘Is this today or is it 100 years ago?’ This was particularly important for my work with the 2012 Olympics. You can’t beat the sporting legacy that we have in this country, the rural sports, and it is wonderful to be in the countryside and participate in these activities, which are part of the fabric of the countryside.
“When I go out for a day hunting or fishing I will take as many photos as possible but I am very keen not to be seen because I don’t want people to pose, I want them just to carry on doing what they do. I don’t want to be the focal point, I’m just in the shadows observing from a distance. It is the exact opposite of a selfie.”
Jeremy Houghton is the artist in residence at Goodwood during 2015.