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Welgora vers10 front RGB 8cmW 600ppiWELGORA – the equestrian art of Alan Langford 

has received a glowing review in the Society of Equestrian Artists newsletter.

 

Alison Wilson, the reviewer, is well-known for her equestrian paintings and for her witty and articulate instructional book Drawing and Painting Horses. Praise from her is praise indeed!

 

With Alison’s kind permission you can read her full review here below. It includes the paintings selected to illustrate the review in the December 2015 Society of Equestrian Artists newsletter.

 

Book Review

Welgora: The equestrian art of Alan Langford

A New Forest artist’s story

‘Welgora’ (Anglo-Romani for ‘Horse Fair’) is a newly published book on the work – and the life – of Alan Langford, a long-standing Full Member of the SEA, whom many of you will know from workshops and other SEA events. I have always enjoyed Alan’s contributions to the SEA’s Annual Exhibitions, and therefore I was delighted to be asked to review this book for your Newsletter.

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‘Romani with vanners’ on page xi

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‘Appleby Fair’ on page 103

This book has many strands. It follows the story of Alan’s life, but does so largely through his work, and the book is packed full of illustrations in colour and line-and-wash. Woven through the book are many observations on the history and the lives of travelling people, and thoughts on what it means to be an artist. Above all, it is a thought provoking read, courageous in not shirking controversy or difficult and personal topics.

I seldom read biographies of artists, especially if they are written by ‘non-artists’. I find their insight into working practice is at best minimal and often dangerously misleading, and their propensity to descend into irrelevant gossip – often unsubstantiated gossip – irritating, but autobiographies of artists are a different matter. If thoughtfully and honestly written, they can be a source of practical help, guidance and even inspiration. This book is a good example.

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‘August Drift, New Forest’ on pages 8&9

It would be impossible to read this book and remain unaware of the dedication necessary to the life of a serious working artist. This dedication expresses itself in many ways- the time an artist must spend learning, not just as a student, but throughout their working life, the humility that means they never stop working to improve, the absolute need for ruthless professional self-criticism, which sometimes conflicts dangerously with the hard fight against self-doubt, the debts artists feel towards mentors and colleagues who generously help those who many people might regard as their potential professional rivals. It is all here, in this book. But there is something more, and that’s here too. It is the need to work.  Just wanting to ‘be’ an artist isn’t enough. You have to want, to need, to draw, to paint, to model.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to have it (relatively) easy – that is, we had the opportunity to go to a good art school full-time at a young age, but many of the best artists have not had that opportunity. They have had to work hard at other jobs to earn a crust while studying when and where they could, going to evening classes at the local college or art school. This requires an even higher level of commitment. As someone who taught such students I saw this in practice- to turn out time after time in miserable winter weather to go to a life class after an exhausting day at work and study hard for another two or three hours takes courage and dedication of a high order. Alan is an artist who has had to take this harder road, and it is humbling to read of how hard he has worked to get where he is.

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‘New Arrivals, Stow-on-the-Wold’ on pages 50&51

Throughout the book you feel not only Alan’s ‘need’ to draw and to paint – for example,  how even when he was working as a full-time illustrator he got up early to complete his illustration commissions so he could go out and paint from life later in the day – but also his sheer joy in doing it. This drives the book, just as it has driven his life. As a result this is not a preachy book- it is a thoroughly enjoyable read and abounds with interesting and amusing stories and colourful descriptions which bring places and times to life ( and make me for one want to go and paint them) because Alan uses language in a painterly way – not something every artist is able to do.

Many of us will have worked alongside other artists at workshops and exhibitions, sometimes knowing specific artists superficially for years, but sadly it isn’t often we get to know much about each other apart from our work. It’s often surprising if you do get talking about each other’s murky pasts what varied backgrounds artists have – I know of artists who have been platelayers on the railway, accountants, carpet fitters, vets, police forensic photographers, bus drivers, and nurses. Amongst those who have more traditional pasts for artists I know graphic designers, technical draughtsmen, and scenic artists, as well as teachers of the various branches of art of course. Alan can add quite a few things to both lists, some that certainly surprised me and I’ve known Alan as an artist for some years, but I’d be spoiling the book for you if I listed them. So I won’t. You’ll have to read it yourself.

It won’t shock anyone who knows me who is reading this, but one of Alan’s points throughout the book with which I could not agree more involves the importance of drawing, and drawing often; Alan’s  ‘Draw, draw, then draw some more’- echoes Sickert’s famous saying ‘Drawing is the thing’, and Ingres’ somewhat more formal ‘Drawing is the proberty of Art’.  Throughout his life Alan has always drawn, and still attends life class (as indeed we should all do wherever possible). Alan’s quotation from Lucy Kemp Welch on the subject of life drawing nailed the reasons for an artist to work at life drawing (whatever subjects they may paint) better than any other quotation I’ve read.

For me, Alan’s most impressive skills involve those very aspects of art in which I feel myself to be least skilled – a good visual memory and the capacity to draw ‘out of your head’ – without a model in front of you. These skills, both of them rare and difficult to learn, and very difficult indeed to teach, are crucial to an artist like Alan who paints stories and not merely studies.

It’s always intriguing to hear from an artist which artists they most admire, and/or feel they have learned from. Alan’s case is no exception; there are many thoughtful references to artists, both masters and contemporaries, in the book. His long term admiration for Goya surprised me at first, as Goya is not an artist often cited as an influence with artists with the possible exception of printmakers, then when I thought about Alan’s background in illustration and considered some of the fine examples of it in this book (‘Shipwreck’ and ‘Warrior on horse’) it made perfect sense, and his words on Goya made me think it was time I went back and looked again at Goya’s work. That’s always a good sign in a book. I share Alan’s enthusiasm for some of the ‘usual suspects’, such as Rembrandt and Constable, but also for some of the rarer birds, such as de Loutherbourg, more known to scenic artists than painters as a rule. This particular liking didn’t surprise me in Alan, as de Loutherbourg was a great dramatic story-teller in paint.

The book abounds with drawings and paintings of great energy and movement, but not only that, fundamentally they tell stories, of people, of horses, in some cases of a vanishing lifestyle. With Alan’s work, every picture really does tell a story. The book does the same and what better thing can you say about a book or a painting than that?

Alison Wilson

To buy WELGORA and other New Forest artist’s books go to www.littleknollbookshop.co.uk 

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