Last weekend I began to make paintings of some of the stuff we saw in East Africa last month. First, I wanted to paint big yellow cats and I began with this one, Still hungry, of lionesses after an unsuccessful hunt in the Mara.
I really enjoyed painting the zebras on the left of that picture, so I thought I’d make a painting of just zebras.
We were at Crater Lake game reserve near Naivasha, Kenya, a place where with a guide you can walk in the bush. We got up quite close to giraffe, eland, kongoni and lots of zebras.
Moth took a sequence of photos of a zebra cantering past us. Moth’s very good at panning – swinging the camera round to follow moving objects – and shot a sequence of pin-sharp photos of this stripey equine.
I’ve always been intrigued by the work of 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge and his impact on the way we ‘see’ movement, you’ll probably know about his sequence of stills of racehorses which he put together like this:
Anyway, doing a similar thing, I selected four shots from Moth’s sequence, put the figures together and made this painting.
Each zebra’s stripe pattern is unique, so in painting four figures of the same animal, accuracy in painting each stripe was paramount.
I wanted to get that visual shimmer you get with all those fast moving stripes; the stripes that define the zebra’s gorgeous anatomy. Here’s a detail of the second figure:
The natural elasticity of tendons in the hoof and ankle, which gives the zebra such snappy bounce and speed, intrigued me more and more as I observed each of Moth’s photos more closely.
Having painted such a keenly observed figure of one single equine, I can now better appreciate the genius of 18th century English artist George Stubbs, who didn’t have the benefit of Moth’s photographs – or indeed anyone’s – to work from!