Artist: Philip Blacker
Blacker rode professionally as a steeplechase jockey for thirteen years, retiring in 1982. He was placed in the Grand National on several occasions and rode 340 winners. He was innately drawn to sculpture and developed his practice while still riding. He was guided by Margot Dent, a former pupil of John Skeaping who he sites as an influence as well as Rembrandt Bugatti. His first three editions of racing bronzes based on the Grand National sold quickly and he had his first, hugely successful, one-man show at the Tryon Gallery, Cork Street, London in 1983.
Blacker began by capturing the authenticity and movement of horse racing subjects. However, after retiring from the sport, he began to include a wider subject matter and to experiment with technique. His ambition was to work on a grand scale and the opportunity came when he was commissioned to create a life-size sculpture of Red Rum for Aintree Racecourse, after which he completed twenty-six further life-size or larger bronzes of horses, including Desert Orchid for Kempton Park Racecourse and Northern Dancer for Woodbine in Canada. In recent years Blacker’s life-size commissions included sculptures of the triple Cheltenham gold Cup winner Best Mate, Persian Punch for Newmarket Racecourse, a dressage horse for the New Equestrian Centre in Penang, Malaysia, and an eighteen-foot-high sculpture of a stallion for Saudi Arabia. His commissions stand also in Australia, France, Ireland, Barbados and Japan. Blacker’s most recent work includes life-size bronzes of Lady Bamford’s Oaks winner Sariska, Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden for Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and a half-life size for Lady Lloyd Webber of her great filly The Fugue.
Blacker identifies strongly with his equine sculptures, using his experience in the saddle to inform his work and capture the spirit of the horse. Having experienced life from saddle-side, he is in a unique position to capture the essence of racing life. However, his sensitivity to his creations carries through into his other compositions too. He created large, evocative figural sculptures of the strong man Willie Carr (Blythe shopping centre) and featherweight boxer Jim Driscoll (Cardiff Bay Development Corporation) both of which illustrate his sensibility and connection to his subjects. He is proud of his series of bronze friezes, on which he used a new patination technique, which marked one hundred years since the start of the First World War as did his evocative, heart-felt sculpture of a heavy horse, Flanders’ Mud, based on the poetry of the era.