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Culture, Art

Meet the Artist: Chloe Brown

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“my nickname was The Horse Whisperer”
Chloe Brown wuhpxo

Contemporary artist Chloe Brown, who has a permanent art display at Aintree, the home of the Grand National, is opening her Bicester studio during Oxfordshire Artweeks and welcoming visitors to come and meet her and see her work. Esther Lafferty finds out more.

“Early on as a child, I could always connect with animals and often sought comfort in them” says Chloe. “Natural history and science were my favourite subjects, you would often find me reading encyclopaedias or covered in the mud outside, creating potions, collecting leaves, or being mesmerised with form.

One day my mum’s partner joked that if I wanted to earn £20, I could help his friend with his horses for twelve weeks, never expecting me to take him up on his offer. I wasn’t bothered about the money, but I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing and spending time with horses and I spent every moment I could at the stables. I got absolutely drenched day in and day out, covered head to toe in straw and mud – I lived in Lancashire where it rains all the time - and yet I couldn’t have loved it more. This is where my passion for horses started.”

Chloe explains that she’s always considered horses a spiritual animal. “I feel they can see right inside you, deep into your very essence and, for me, there’s something special about being with them. They also represent great potential because they can transport you away from the here mentally if you’re having a hard time and offer so much comfort and support. They truly are magic.

Before I had a major accident, breaking my pelvis with multiple clean breaks, I was a horse-trainer and I always had a deep emotional connection with animals and an innate understanding of them. I could tell a horse’s next move or listen to what they had to say just by looking into their eyes, and my nickname was The Horse Whisperer. In my art, I want to help the viewers have that same connection.”

It was while Chloe was bed-bound during a year-long intensive recovery period after her accident, that she began to draw, “I truly believe my ability to create comes from that accident, I had a lot of swelling on my head and I think it ‘unlocked’ my creative side”. Horses are renowned for being difficult to draw; they are a challenge that – without a doubt – tests an artist's proficiency with their complex facial bone structure and muscular system, long, graceful necks, with long limbs all varying breed to breed. It requires precise proportions. Chloe, however, draws from a deep and practical understanding of their complex anatomy, musculature and movements for her semi-abstracted works.

“Early on in my career as an artist, I had a choice of painting horses that were an almost photographic copy of the subject or developing an original approach and style. I chose the latter. I want to be instantly recognisable in my work.” she explains. “I see patterns in everything – numbers, walls and even paragraphs – and I have these ‘waking visions’ in my mind, when a painting appears in front of my eyes with a strong sense of urgency to create. This approach gives me freedom to work with and emphasise a horse’s emotions and expressions, whilst connecting the viewer with the world around them.”

Chloe’s art is intriguing and colourful, and she uses these colours to show the emotions and energy that she picks up from the horse she’s painting, taking inspiration from nature and patterns as she chooses her palette.

Her colours are often drawn from an image by NASA of a nebula captured by the Hubble telescope, in vibrant browns and greys, purples and blues, with the occasional flash of a bright turquoise: “I am interested in science, space and quantum physics,” she grins. “The cosmos seems so far removed from us and yet we live in it going about our daily lives not really considering it and that summarizes, to me, how everything is connected by the energy all around us.”

In her everyday art practice, she works intuitively in oils, applying the paint in loose yet complex brushstrokes that emphasise both the contours and the character of her subjects.

With an eye for detail and an instinct for pattern design, some of Chloe’s work includes delicate patterning emerging from the horses’ coats, as seen in a several works inspired by William Morris. “I was intrigued to learn that William Morris got much of his inspiration by Persian textiles and carpets from the Middle East,” she says. “I love the intricacy and complexity of his patterns. They’re beautiful to look at, and while they’re overwhelming to the senses, they’re also peaceful, just like the natural world. I have subtly explored the use of pattern in my work by adding in pattern on the legs, faces and mane of the horses in this collection.”

The horses in Chloe’s William Morris series are all Andalusian, a graceful and powerful horse with a strong arched neck and excellent proportions. A regular visitor to the Andalusian region of Spain, the third work of this William Morris collection was triggered by a banana tree. Here Chloe weaves together threads from both England and Spain. “When I was last in Andalusia last year,” she explains, “I saw a particular banana tree with perfect composition every day and felt compelled to paint it: that’s where my vision for this piece started,” she explains. In a greener palette than is her norm, Chloe has also included a classic olive tree, a Spanish bird and a horse pawing at lily-pads in a traditional British pond.

“I’m also adding butterflies. I like to incorporate an additional feeling of freedom in my art and butterflies hold a lot of spiritual meaning for both me and people throughout history. There is something about rebirthing from a caterpillar to the butterfly I find spellbinding. They can represent life, change, hope and endurance, and many cultures associate the butterfly with our soul. Also, it is said there are over 20000 species in the world which gives me great scope to explore and research.

I also painted several pictures of birds and horses together, interacting, I’m really developing my storytelling within my work. I love that birds can be so colourful in nature – the robin and the bluetit in the UK, and the hummingbird especially. I enjoy the contrast of subjects between the little and the large.”

For Artweeks Chloe is also showing a new series of work, an exploration of fragrances in which she decorated a horse’s form with the colours and shapes she sees when she smells a certain scent which leads us on to discuss whether Chloe, with her finely-honed sensory awareness is perhaps a synaesthete. [A person in whom the senses are not completely separate allowing cross-over between them so that sight may mingle with sound, taste with touch, etc.]

With a contemporary aesthetic that’s bright and colourful, intricate stamp-work and fine lines, these are evocative of fine-art carousel horses. Thinking of Spain, the shapes, the blues and yellow lemons of Majolica pottery, and a 2023 summer collection from Dolce & Gabbana, she plays on pattern making.

“I’m also including a rhino in this series, she adds, “because although horses are my favourite, I’m interested in endangered species, too. I’ve recently begun riding again and my dream is to go on a horseback safari to see them in the wild.”

For more on Chloe’s exhibition and other venues open during Oxfordshire Artweeks, visit artweeks.org.

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