Sam Robison was victorious in the Fine Art section of Baily’s first Hunting Image Competition with his side saddle related image. This is his story
I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an artist. I was raised mostly in South Korea so when I started to show interest in drawing, my parents engaged a Korean artist to teach me the Asian style of brush and ink painting. This has influenced my brushwork, relying on a pointed brush stroke to say as much as possible in one touch.
I live in the Greenspring Valley of Baltimore County, Maryland, on a small part of Burnside Farm, a property my family has lived on since 1860. Most of the original property has long since passed out of the family.
Though any active farming has long since past, the beautiful old mansion and tenant houses provided a wonderful place to live, create a studio and raise a family. Artefacts of that time remain: horse show ribbons, a photo of my grandfather as a boy with his pony, pictures of Sirrah (a hackney stallion), prize dairy stock portraits, and old bits and crops hang in my studio.
I am near some of Maryland’s great Hunt Country, and the site of several of our Point to Point and Timber races. A short drive away Pimlico Racecourse, home of the Preakness, and the legendary Sagamore Farms can be found, so I am well situated for a Sporting Artist. The surrounding landscape is rolling hills and valleys with great hardwood trees, populated with horse farms and estates.
The subjects found in my work are all a regular part of the life around me. Whether working from life or photos, the artist’s job is to find and translate the visual poetry for the enjoyment of the viewer
My interest in the horse as a subject began in earnest a decade or so ago, arising organically from my work as a portrait artist and a ‘Plein Air’ landscape painter.
A commission to paint a Master of the Greenspring Valley Hounds led me to consider the idea of doing something mounted rather than placing the subject in a studio chair. I found myself one morning at a local hunt meeting, and that was all it took! Besides the beauty of Maryland country, the movement and line of horses, hounds and riders were all I needed to see that this was a subject worthy of years of effort. Following hounds led to more time spent at the local timber races, then on to the tracks, breeding farms and training barns, slowly learning what I was looking at, and gaining an eye for the defining moments and details.
Years of painting ‘en Plein Air’ allowed me to understand I needed to do as much as possible from life. Horses simply do not wait around for me to sketch them, so I have had to study the forms so I can render a convincing scene on the spot. For me, there is no substitute for doing this if you aim to get a vivid sense of light and movement.
While my photographer friends run from spot to spot to get all the action, I set up in one location for a couple of hours and watch as it unfolds. The thing about a racecourse is that the same basic event is going to repeat itself, so a paddock, for example, will be filled and emptied of horses several times. I note poses and situations as they come and go and create a complete scene over time. Sometimes, these field studies remain untouched. Most get further work, with or without the benefit of reference photos taken along the way, to get the details right, or to recall the silks of a certain race.
Horses look a certain way and my audience is very attentive! They will make you aware if you haven’t quite got it right in their view. I often get comments about aspects of a painting that I have not consciously placed there. I rely on my drawing skills without necessarily knowing what will be communicated. Figures in the background, a mere few strokes, are positively identified as so and so, because that is how they sit a horse, or I am treated to a full description of what that horse was thinking based on the expression or gait. Jockeys are a great source of insight into what is really going on, and I love the less elegant scenes of the backside and the daily routines of barns.
The essential vision is the brilliant effect of a very fit thoroughbred in the sunlight! If you can catch them getting sloshed down with a bucket on a hot day, they really gleam!
There is something very immediate and vital about the relationship between people and horses. It seems an anachronism to some, but it is a living tradition, fiercely preserved in this part of the world, and a great subject to paint! I aspire to bring the highest level of artistry to the subject that I can.
My primary medium is oil paint. My larger work is in oils, but I have developed a fondness for working in gouache, an opaque watercolour medium. It enables me to work very quickly in a technique that is enough like oil painting to be a good way to investigate subjects that might make successful larger oils. When you find me painting at the races, I will most likely be working small and using gouache. These are rapid attempts to get something of the scene committed to paper. This practice is the backbone of my most successful work.
The complexity of the forms of horse and hound make the use of photography a practical necessity, and I’m especially grateful to my photographer friends who have graciously let me paint from their photography. Until such time that we can gather in person again. COVID-19 limitations make the use of photo references an important link to events that have had to be cancelled. My skills in interpreting visual facts into painterly expression are sufficiently developed to make the best of circumstances. The wealth of imagery available online makes it possible to incorporate a wide world of figures and settings into studio work.