“Hunting has made me,” says Daniel Crane, whose passion for the sport infuses his paintings. Janet Menzies is inspired to pull her boots on
A passion for hunting infuses the work of sporting artist Daniel Crane. It is an enthusiasm so strong that Janet Menzies finds herself inspired to pull her boots on and go hunting.
Writing about the enthralling paintings of equestrian artist Daniel Crane is difficult. This is not because of his neo-traditionalist compositions or his experiential use of light, or any of the other twiddly bits art critics talk about. It is, quite simply, because when you look at one of Crane’s hunting paintings every fibre of mind and muscle instantly wants you to pull on your boots and go hunting. Now! This makes it extremely difficult to remain seated in front of your computer. However, after three hours solid riding out and with no hunt meeting within 50 miles, it is possible to talk about Crane’s work.
Oddly enough, the first things we talked about were, in fact, Crane’s neo-traditionalist compositions and his experiential use of light. “Lionel Edwards has been an important influence for me and his composition was special because he was first and foremost a foxhunting man and this informed his work. There’s no getting away from it, my passion is foxhunting and the environment in which you do it. I want to capture that experience – and the light is really the most important thing in doing that.
“The processes surrounding hunting may change but the end result, what you experience in a day’s hunting, stays the same and it is locked into the land and the seasons. Edwards would have gone out cubbing and on hound exercise. It is autumn trail hunting nowadays but you still see those early morning mists. You can still smell the leaves as the frost begins to thaw off them; and you can feel the warmth of your horse and hear hounds working. This is what my work is about. I paint as a participant, not an observer.”
Yet Crane’s early hunting experiences were as an observer. “My dad was a typical hunting farmer who kept a cob and hunted when hounds were within hacking distance. I loved watching him but I didn’t quite get it until one day when I was about 12 or 13 years old and hounds came through the back garden in full cry. I was transfixed. Then the cavalry came charging through and in a moment they were all gone again. But I was sat there like Mr Toad after the motor-horn, completely captivated.”
The sound of the hunting horn grabbed Crane just as surely as the car fixated Toad, but, unlike Toad, he didn’t have the resources to do anything about it immediately. The decisive encounter with hounds didn’t come until several years later, when Crane and the hunt met from different ends of the day.
“I was about 19 years old by then and wandering home from a party at dawn, as you do when you’re a teenager. Suddenly, I was surrounded by hounds. I said: ‘What is happening?’ And they explained they were out autumn hunting and I stayed and watched. They said they would be out again on Tuesday and that was it. I foot-followed for the next two seasons.”
THE TRANSITION TO SPORTING ARTIST
In the meantime, Crane was grappling with a familiar problem: “How do you make a living out of drawing and painting when you’re a farmer’s son? You can’t be a painter because it makes no money so I studied commercial design and art and got into the advertising side of creative work. As a side-line I also started doing cartoons for people’s 50th and 21st birthdays and they were very popular. I was soon doing a lot of cartoons with a hunting-based humour. Gradually, though, the sport of hunting came more to the fore and the cartoon element began to disappear.”
Almost without noticing, Crane had made the transition to sporting artist. He started to take stands at equestrian and country sports events. “The first really successful outing was my first Badminton Horse Trials. I had about 14 or 15 originals and sold every single one of them. That put a rocket up my backside. I thought, what if I pull my finger out and really take this seriously?”
Painting technique and passion about the subject came together and Crane found himself as absorbed in painting hunting as in hunting itself. He remembers: “I was hungry for the sport everywhere – in representation, between the pages – I was looking at Lionel Edwards’ illustrations. My technique came as a natural development, because every time I painted something I just wanted to work out how to paint it better.”
This is how Crane has developed the capacity to elicit a visceral wave of recognition in those looking at his work. His authenticity and credibility is absolute. He explains: “About hunting, the memory is completely accurate. No matter how many days hunting you have, there is always something in a day that pins it in your memory. In my paintings it is specific – that beech tree, that particular stretch of hedge we jumped, exactly where hounds crossed Twyford Brook. Hunting has made me and I make the painting.”
We carried on talking about hunting at this point but you can stop reading now – and go hunting.
Daniel Crane also paints a range of equestrian subjects and his most recent commission celebrates the 70th anniversary of the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Look out for Crane at Cheltenham Races over the winter, call him on 01507 343277 or visit his website at: www.danielcrane.co.uk