From the spectacle of the horses to the kickback and billboards, Jane Braithwaite captures racing as it truly is, says Janet Menzies
How do you paint the invisible? How do you capture the feel and the smell and the sound of being at the races on a raw, damp day in mid-winter? The wind drives a smattering of rain into the stands, and the turf smells of mud and bruised grass as the horses jump the last to a cheer from the crowd. All these things are in the paintings of Jane Braithwaite.
SPORTING ARTIST: JANE BRAITHWAITE
“I like to paint what is actually there, and I like the mud flying and the billboards,” she says. “I don’t like fanciful painting – I prefer the ‘warts and all’ approach. I did a painting of a horse racing at Catterick the other day and put it on Facebook, and people said, ‘Oh, why have you left all the billboards in?’, but they were there, and that is what you see racing.”
Anybody who gets goosebumps at the Cheltenham Festival will understand Jane Braithwaite when she adds: “I want every picture to tell a story. I don’t like sentimentality – I want to show that weather… and the kickback in the jockey’s face. I know what kickback is like. In some ways, I would rather be riding now than painting the racehorses. I live near Middleham and the racing trainers are always advertising for work riders. I would love to be going up the gallops on a two-year-old, but it would be a bit silly.”
As Braithwaite is now past retirement age, perhaps it isn’t practical for her to pull on her boots again, but it’s not as silly as all that as she competed successfully in eventing and dressage for many years. She was also a busy primary school teacher for more than two decades, although this wasn’t quite in her original grand plan. Braithwaite explains: “After school, I was flattered to get a place at Manchester College of Art for the prestigious foundation course.”
Everything seemed set fair for Braithwaite to fulfil her dream of being an equestrian artist, but like so many young figurative artists, she found herself stopped in her tracks by a brick wall – almost literally. “It was when everybody was going through this modernist period,” she remembers, “and everything had to be a green square or a yellow square. I was so naive and I wasn’t assertive. In retrospect, I should have stuck my chin out, but it was so dominant it really caved me in. I thought I was wrong and doing the wrong thing and I wasn’t good enough to be an artist. So instead I ended up moving to teacher training.”
Art didn’t let Braithwaite go, and eventually she started taking evening classes in painting. “I always knew I wanted to do this one day. Then, in my fifties, I realised I could probably take early retirement and start painting full time – for myself, that is, not with any idea of selling any work.” But her painting was soon discovered as she began exhibiting with the Society of Equestrian Artists, which she now chairs.
She confesses: “To be honest, I am quite dumbstruck by the success I am having. It is very unexpected. It wasn’t planned; it is one of those fabulous bonuses in life. I am so busy painting all the time. I never thought things would turn out like this, but I am loving it. And looking back to when I didn’t fit in at art school, I actually have no regrets at all, because it meant that I could compete in eventing, which was something I really wanted to do.”
Unlike Manchester College of Art in the 1970s, the Society of Equestrian Artists was quick to recognise Jane Braithwaite’s talent. She says: “I owe a lot to the society – I have learnt so much from the workshops. We do a lot of work en plein air and have horses held for us. It is a wonderful experience, although it can be frustrating when your equine model moves; you have to learn to work around it.”
Braithwaite’s technique begins outdoors, where she sketches to capture light and colour rather than detail. “I do several colour sketches and take these back to the studio,” she says. “That is my colour source, informing the finished work. I take many photos as well, and then pull the two together in the composition. Accuracy and the conformation of the horse are very important to me. Everything has to be right, and it must still be a painting, revealing my narrative. I like to play on the light, and to challenge myself with silhouetted subjects or evening light.”
Braithwaite’s oil Last on the Card portrays just such a moment. Offstage, racegoers are tearing up their betting slips and heading for the car park. Braithwaite has painted the unseen.
To see more of Jane Braithwaite’s work, visit: janebraithwaitefineart.com
For more about the Society of Equestrian Artists, visit: equestrianartists.co.uk
Jane Braithwaite is regularly exhibited by John Thorley’s Equestrian Art International (equestrianartuk.com) at most major racecourses, especially the Cheltenham Festival. Cards and prints can also be purchased from Sally Mitchell Fine Arts (sallymitchell.com).