Jane Wheatley meets Cotswolds artist Jeremy Houghton.
Jeremy Houghton’s work as artist in residence takes him behind the closed doors of some of the country’s most exclusive locations: Windsor Castle, Cirencester Park Polo Club, Wimbledon. He began by tapping family military connections to paint the Grenadier Guards. ‘I had an exhibition in the Mess and all the old boys bought work — perfect for a young upstart. Then, one thing led to another,’ Mr Houghton adds, with a certain understatement.
We meet at his parents’ farm outside Broadway, Worcestershire, where I meet his daughters’ ponies, snoozing in their stables, before crossing the yard to his studio. Horses play a big part in his work: horses racing, playing polo, horses at war, ceremonial horses at Windsor Castle Royal Mews. ‘I chose the Mews because it said the most about The Queen,’ reveals the artist, who is opening a gallery in Chipping Campden in late spring.
One of the series shows the back view of a groom leading away a horse, outlined in a soft grey wash. ‘The thing is to meet the people who make these places work. At the polo club, for me, it was all about the ponies, hanging out with the gauchos at the pony lines. These are the nuggets you look for.’
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Here, too, are the greats of the game, such as the late Duke of Edinburgh, instantly recognisable in a couple of brush strokes in the hurly burly of the pitch. ‘To paint movement, you have to eliminate detail and reduce the palette,’ expounds Mr Houghton, much of whose work is rendered in shades of blue on white. ‘I love space, white empty paper,’ he enthuses. His paintings have the feel of early photographs. ‘I love old photos and negatives — the places I work at have great history and I just stumbled on this style, which nods to the past.’
In lockdown, using up old canvases, he painted over flamingos inspired by a spell in South Africa and, occasionally, a flash of pinky-orange plumage has been allowed to ghost through the work. ‘Like a secret flamingo,’ I say. ‘I like that,’ he replies with a grin.
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