Philip Blacker, born in 1949 and educated in Dorset, became a jockey on leaving school and rode professionally for 13 years.
“…there was this endless waste of mud, holes and water, miles and miles of it, but with a noble dignity of its own.” War scenes on the Western Front by Arnold Bennett.
“What gave the scene a particularly sinister aspect was the way the roads were clearly visible, like a network of white veins in the moonlight, and there was no living being on them.”
“…and there we joined the refugees,
Since then, Blacker has carried out countless commissions and had many successful London exhibitions. His latest is an exhibition of bronze friezes related to the subject of World War One to be held at Thompson’s Gallery, 15 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 9UB.After being placed in the Grand National on several occasions and riding 340 winners, he retired in 1982 to concentrate full time on sculpture.
In 2013 Blacker’s long-time friend, Brough Scott, the horseracing journalist and grandson of General Jack Seely, commissioned Blacker to produce a sculpture that would immortalise his grandfather’s famous horse ‘Warrior’.
While researching ‘Warrior’ Blacker was inspired to create these WW1 friezes. With the great wealth of literature and music that documented the war itself, Blacker has taken lines from recognised WW1 poetry and music and adapted them into bronze wall-mounted friezes, depicting scenes of poignancy relating to the Great War.
To do this he has created a series of friezes which are essentially scenes from life in 1914 cast in fragments of metal, as if from a larger picture. Colour is achieved by the traditional method of heating the bronze and applying chemicals and dyes.
“The inspiration for my WW1 friezes come from a variety of sources. A couple are inspired by paintings, notably by CRW Nevinson and Paul Nash, but mostly they come from poems, letters, songs and books,” says Philip.
“These words allowed my imagination to perceive them through the medium of my bas relief panels. They may well not be an accurate depiction but that is not really the point. They are just my interpretation, inspired by the words of those who were there.
“I have not focused on the tragedy of the war itself, that having been well chronicled, but more of life behind the lines. Where the front line has been depicted it is usually in a moment of reflection.
“The bronze friezes have been coloured with the application of chemicals and dyes applied to the hot bronze, which I believe gives them a unique and random quality. Unlike painted bronze sculpture which, in my opinion, is essentially two art forms in conflict and competition with each other, these patinated bronze friezes are a union, bringing colour and depth to the work while complimenting the underlying form.
“Only three will be cast from each mould, but every one of them is essentially a one-off as the patination on all of them are deliberately different.”
Philip’s interest in WW1 started in 2011 when he created a half-life size bronze of a horse entitled ‘Flanders Mud’. This piece coincided with his experimental work with the bronze friezes. Having been commissioned to create a large sculpture of General Jack Seely and his famous warhorse Warrior, his research into that subject led to a further interest and a visit to the Somme battlefields. His military background lent an added interest.
The horrors of WW1 have been well chronicled, but this new work inevitably looks at the war from a different perspective, viewing it from a hundred years on. For this reason he has also avoided in the main being specific in location, preferring a more general view. Only someone who was there can chronicle locations precisely, but through this interpretation of the war, Philip hopes that he can add his own dimension to the perception of WW1.
Philip Blacker was formerly a professional steeplechase jockey for 13 years, riding 340 winners and being placed in the Grand National three times.
Under the guidance of Margot Dent, a former pupil of John Skeaping, he devoted as much time as possible to sculpture during his racing career. In 1982 he retired to concentrate full time on sculpture holding his first one-man show at the Tryon Gallery in 1983.
He has since created sculptures the world over including 26 life-size bronzes of famous racehorses which ‘stand’ all over the globe.
Philip’s father, General Sir ‘Monkey’ Blacker fought in the second world war in France earning an MC. In a successful military career he served in Northern Ireland and became Vice Chief of General Staff. During this time he was also a successful amateur jockey and International show jumper with his famous horse Workboy. He was also a prolific writer and painter, writing his autobiography entitled ‘Monkey Business’.
Philip’s brother Terence is a successful novelist and journalist.
Visit the exhibition
‘Farewell Leicester Square’ An exhibition of bronze friezes by Philip Blacker – a perspective from one hundred years on will run from 5th November 2014 for two weeks at Thompson’s Gallery, 15 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 9UB. www.thompsonsgallery.co.uk Tel: 0207 935 3595.
For more information about Philip and his work see www.philipblacker.co.uk