By Samantha Martin
Art and horse racing have been interlinked for hundreds of years. Oil paintings of blue-blooded equines adorn the walls of palaces and art movements have continually influenced the portrayal of racehorses. Inspired by the impressionists, artist Elizabeth Armstrong will be a familiar face for plenty of racegoers and her paintings are incredibly popular amongst racing fans.
I had seen Elizabeth’s work on social media and in the trade stand at Cheltenham before, but I spoke to her for the first time at the Lambourn Open Day, when I purchased a stunning print of Enable. “Some artists wouldn’t like to do that,” she told me of having a stand at the open day, “But I like to talk about my work and I think it is good to get it out there.”
Elizabeth always wanted to be an artist, encouraged by her father, “He was an architect so I used to bunk off school and go to building sites with him. That’s really what I wanted to do. Many years ago, you only needed GCSEs to get into art school so I got five GCSEs and went to Croydon School of Art.” After doing a foundation course, Elizabeth went to Goldsmiths to do a degree in textiles and embroidery, which is why she tends to use textiles within her work.
Elizabeth’s paintings are vivid and colourful, something that is created by a range of techniques, “Because I went to Goldsmiths and used lots of mixed media there, I have always used mark making with different materials. I use ink, water colour. I mix my own pigments which is quite interesting because the colours are much more vibrant. I use tea and coffee in my work for the pigment and I think the colour is quite ideal for the horse. I think it is quite a good equine colour. I use lots of different materials and I’m always up for experimenting.”
“When I left Goldsmiths, after three or four years, I then went travelling. I was offered a job with the BBC in set design but I turned it down,” she laughs, “I went travelling for three or four years. I wasn’t really into racing at that time; I got into racing about twenty years ago.”
Art led Elizabeth to horse racing, “The interest in racing came from when I went to Jersey for a personal reason. I messaged a guy who had horses training at the time in Newmarket with a young trainer there and he was an art collector and, obviously coming from Jersey, he was quite wealthy. When he saw my type of art, he encouraged me to paint the horse in art. From then on, he sent me lots of samples for a year of how he thought it would look good and I sort of absorbed them all and started doing it.”
Then, Elizabeth needed a way to sell her art and was approached by Johnny Weatherby, who bought two paintings through an agent and, later on, they worked together at Ascot Racecourse, “They developed Ascot Racecourse and Johnny Weatherby at the time was the president or the managing director and we had an art sale there for three years because local people didn’t really like the sort of architecture and the changes of the whole Ascot Racecourse because it is very historical. So, they thought, if they brought in some local artists to kind of talk to the general public and demonstrate, it would help and it did the trick.
“Then, they invited me to, because I was cheeky and asked if I could, stay on because I really enjoyed the process of like showing my work because I hadn’t really done it, taking down people’s details and getting your own mailing list. So, I worked there for about three years but, by then, they sort of changed the whole structure and they didn’t have trade stands, just had their own shop, now.” Elizabeth explained.
Her involvement with racecourses did not stop there, “I was then approached by the then marketing manager at Royal Windsor Racecourse, called Matthew Foxton-Duffy, and he liked my style. He bought a couple of paintings and he said would you like to come and be the artist in residence at Royal Windsor and that involves me being there when I want to attend showing my own art with my paintings, similar to at Cheltenham, and also producing art around the racetrack that is modern, different and contemporary, which I have done for the last six or seven years.”
As well as racecourses, Elizabeth has created art work for owners in order to commemorate massive successes, “I work with a lot of textures like horse hair and cloth and a really nice guy came to the preview night [of a gallery opening] and he was the owner of a horse called Auroras Encore, who won the Grand National in 2013. He had a very big beautiful house on the border with Scotland and he wanted a big black and white piece. He said, ‘I want it like the Guernica by Picasso.’ So, I created about a nine foot by seven foot piece of art for him of his horse jumping a fence and it’s amazing with horse hair cloth. When he saw it, he loved it and he said, ‘Where’s the bridle?’ and I said, ‘You wanted it like Picasso!’ as he always painted the horses without a bridle.”
See the incredible painting here – Commissions – Elizabeth Armstrong
Racing fans may be more familiar with Elizabeth’s smaller water colour pieces, “When you add water to it, you can splash it around to encourage the movement, which I think with national hunt and flat horses, that’s what they are trained to do. That’s how they shine out with their movements. They’re flight animals so they move pretty fast!”
Elizabeth now lives near Wantage, “It’s a very creative, beautiful area. All the lovely undulating hills – great for painting!” She is also planning to hold workshops with women once a month when the actual workshop is built, “I’ve got six people already who want to do it, but I’ve got to build the actual studio.” So, if hearing about Elizabeth’s journey as an equine artist has inspired you, perhaps get in contact with her to find out more about workshops.
In my opinion, Elizabeth’s paintings are marvellous and capture the dynamic, colourful excitement of the sport. I have a superb print of Enable, that matches the pink of my bedroom as well as cards of Smad Place, Snow Leopardess and Shishkin brightening up my room. Her artwork is a necessity for any racing fan’s memorabilia collection!
Check out her gallery here – https://www.elizabetharmstrong.co.uk/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/ArmstrongArt
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/armstrongfineart/