“I knew I had to find horses I wanted to sculpt with the looks I wanted to achieve. I suddenly had to learn everything about the different breeds, their physiology and levels of fitness.” – Hamish Mackie
Hamish Mackie’s sculptures are a beguiling mix of anatomical precision with a dynamic and impressionistic hand finish. From a distance you are looking at a giant bronze horse, but as you approach, the surface becomes a mass of texture: all sinew and muscle rippling and swirling with the sculptor’s hand. His sculptures are alive with individual character and prodigiously tactile – you want to reach out and follow Mackie’s fingerprints along the horse’s flanks.
Mackie’s creative process combines an intuitive understanding of animals with meticulous research. Through hours of observation, detailed photographs and video footage Mackie develops a relationship with the animal that becomes manifest in his sculpture. “With 60 frames a second I can work out exactly what the horse is doing – which is like bringing what I find outside back into the studio where I can freeze frame, blow up, and expand each part of their anatomy that I want to look at in detail.” With the horses, Mackie was afforded closer proximity than with his wildlife subjects, and crucially the ability to connect with the animal through sound and touch.
Mackie’s objective was not to create equine portraits, but his impression of horses in motion, propelled by a credible narrative. When looking for the horses, Mackie continuously asked himself “would this horse have been in a livery?” seeking to remain true to his original vision and the destination for the horses, Berkeley Homes (NEL) Ltd’s Goodman’s Fields development, where once, Mr Goodman leased out the fields to London’s livery horses. “This means I did not always choose the most aesthetically pleasing horse, and made my selection of breeds based on power, durability and the likelihood of their being in a livery.”
Leading the troop is the Andalusian Stallion (horse #5) stopped in his tracks by the traffic on Leman Street, the entrance to the Goodman’s Fields development, alongside a Russian x Arab (horse #6) rearing up dramatically in response. Half submerged in the fountain behind them is an Irish Cob (horse #4), next is a pair of young Thoroughbred x Shires (horses #3 and #2) trying to outrun each other, with an Irish Draught x Warmblood (horse #1) bringing up the rear.
Horse #1 was largely based on a horse called Pinkerton, a very nicely proportioned Hunter, belonging to Crown Prince of Greece. “Someone suggested I spoke to Heather Moody, the groom for Pinkerton who is a 17h3 Irish Sport Horse. He was a fantastic horse and I took hundreds of pictures and videos of him and toyed with the idea of him going up the bank but that was not right for him. So I turned Pinkerton into a mare….which is artistic license.”
This last comment underlines the fact that all six horses are emphatically not portraits. Horse #1 also has elements of the famous Commando “a handsomely proportioned horse” who starred in War Horse and pulled the carriage at the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Unpredictably camera shy, as had been the case with press before Mackie arrived, on encounter he performed beautifully, giving Mackie the additional information he needed to “begin to build the three dimensional horse in my head.”
With his research for horses #2 and #3 Mackie was looking for youthful agility and speed – he wanted to understand exactly where each hoof is placed, how the knees articulate and the leg tendons contract with every stride. He contacted the renowned showman and former point-to-point champion David Tatlow and found his second horse, a Thoroughbred x Irish Draft called Floyd.
“I choose one of the heavier chested horses, strong and heavy set with a big head and large joints – the perfect livery horse for pulling a cart. Clearly this horse enjoyed being filmed, he came out performing to camera bursting with an abundance of energy which is why I chose this horse to be the one bucking.”
Mackie wanted the horse #3 running alongside #2 to embody speed – so he went to Paul Webber Racing. He spent several mornings on the gallops, observing and digesting how each horse moves and what distinguishes an animal built and trained for speed. Eventually, Mackie collected enough information and images of the positions that a galloping horse could achieve and found his inspiration in a 16h7 Thoroughbred called Gravitate (Ted for short). “Paul is such a legend and he was so helpful. Just to see the developed muscles of a racehorse is phenomenal.”
Mackie found horse #4, an Irish Draught called Troy, very close to where he lives in Oxfordshire “over the hill with the lovely Karen Bourdon. It is not the most aesthetically obvious of choices with his big Roman nose and thick bones – he has to have bridles especially made for him – but this is exactly the kind of horse that would have been working in London: hard working, sturdy and practical.”
The making of this horse was one of the most technical parts of the project in the sense that the water depth, initially discussed as 30cm, had to remain exactly the same. “I knew that horse #4, the Irish Draught, would be partially submerged so I asked what the water depth would be, then created a tail exactly 30 cm above the ground so that it would to appear to be floating.”
Perhaps the most sculptural of the horses Hamish found was the Spanish Andalusian, Far Lichi, which gave him the inspiration for horse #5 coming up the bank and eyeballing the traffic on Leman Street. “With his crowned neck and long mane he was a very dramatic horse, and from a sculptor’s point of view he was possibly the most enjoyable to sculpt… though I then said that with each horse.” It was no accident that Mackie looked for a Spanish Stallion, wanting to reflect the cultural diversity found on the London streets. “It makes the whole project much more international.”
Finding horse #6 which was to be an Arab x Russian rearing on two hind legs was possibly the hardest part. “It is very difficult to get a horse to rear on command. I went up to the Beeston Hall Arabian Stud in Norfolk, and they lunged a horse for me. It was incredible to see the angles that moving horses were capable of. I got more excited as this project expanded.”
So Mackie turned to the Internet and after searching for “rearing Arab Stallions” he found Anne Brown and Jackie Pringle of Gadebrook Stud, owner and manager of retired racehorse Sambist who used to belong to HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar. Sambist was the finest racing stallion to come out of Russia where he won all five of the Classic races. His refined features and “romantic desert like aura” gave Mackie exactly what he needed to create the ultimate horse. Sadly, Sambist passed away in 2014, but his image lives on – not in the least in Mackie’s exceptional rearing sculpture.
These horses will be the centerpiece of Goodman’s Fields, a destination development for Berkeley Homes (NEL) Ltd. A major London landmark and iconic showcase of British sculpture, engineering and architecture at its best, the sculptures highlight the profound relationship the City, built on horse power, has with this magnificent animal.
Nico Kos Earle