Last year when I was in the Dordogne, I took the opportunity to visit the incredible cave paintings at Lascaux near Montignac. I was blown away by these prehistoric depictions of wildlife – 17,000 years old. Man has been recording the animals around him since time began and I felt so gratified to be continuing in this tradition. The images of cattle particularly resonated with me. It was not difficult to see the forebears of our modern breeds in those early paintings.
I grew up on a cattle farm in Cornwall, so it is perhaps no surprise that they are one of my favourite subjects. Cattle have always been part of my life. As a child I used to help my father look after and feed our pedigree Limousin herd every day. Limousin originated in France and bear a striking resemblance to those cattle on the walls of the Lascaux caves. Imported to Britain in the early 1970s, within 15 years they had replaced the traditional Hereford as the number one beef cattle in the UK. Hardy and adaptable with few health issues, they are comparatively easy to farm and produce quality meat with a low proportion of fat and bone.
One of the calves became quite tame and followed me all over the farm while I was doing my jobs. I would lie in the fields after school and wait for the cows to come and say hello. When I was about 12, I sculpted a Limousin calf’s head as a Christmas present for my Dad. He still has it all these years later in the farmhouse kitchen. That was the first of a long line of cattle sculptures I have produced.
My first visit to Africa in 1996 is what really drove me to become a wildlife sculptor. I was lucky enough to witness the relocation of Black Rhino, Hyena and Wild Dogs at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and I was so inspired by everything I saw. With the help of the conservationist Jane Craig, I managed to get hold of some beeswax and mix it into a modelling material in her saucepans at Lewa over an open fire. She understood the compulsion I had to sculpt what I was seeing and the Craigs have remained great friends and supporters of my work ever since.
During that first visit to Lewa, I sculpted a Boran Bull and Calf, with their distinctive hump above the shoulders. I would keep my wax originals in the supposedly locked lodge kitchen. One day I caught a Vervet monkey taking a bite out of one of my sculptures – they would run in at any opportunity looking for food. I later cast it into bronze complete with the monkey’s teeth marks – it was all part of the Africa story!
In the 1990’s I was enormously lucky to be encouraged and supported in my work by a handful of people in the art world who commissioned me as a young artist. This type of modern-day patronage was absolutely vital to establishing my career and I will always be grateful for those early cheerleaders. One of them saw an exhibition of my bronzes in Rock in Cornwall and commissioned me to sculpt the head of a Hereford Cow for Chippenham Park, Ely.
I am very fond of Herefords. The most popular breed in the world, they are docile and of quiet temperament which makes them easy to handle. With their white faces and red coats, they are one of the oldest native beef breeds in the country dating back to the 1700s, and have long been the subject of the artist. I never tire of sculpting them – or eating them!
In 2007, I went out to Portugal and Spain to study the fighting bulls there. I was very lucky to get an introduction to the Domecq family, who were very kind to this young, unknown sculptor and I really enjoyed my stay at their ranch. The family is known for breeding Spain’s most famous fighting bulls, the toros bravos and later, the toros artistas. The dehesa was a haven for wildlife and I saw, in the same way as I had at Lewa, how particular environments and habitats shape animal behaviour. Observing animals in their own environment is essential to understanding the subject’s physical and instinctive traits. Some years later I made Bull Bucking 2012 and Bull Head Down 2012.
Of course, one must also have an understanding of anatomy. In 2012, to gain a greater anatomical insight into cattle, I sculpted a side of beef. It really helped to cement my knowledge and when I came to sculpt the bull series, I was able to do so without interruption. The Master Butcher Philip Warren, who supplies many Michelin-starred restaurants across the country including The Ivy, bought my bronze side-of beef sculpture to hang in his shop which was pleasingly appropriate!
In 2013, I created a bronze Aberdeen Angus Bull sculpture for a client who owned a herd in Australia. Looking around for somewhere closer to home to carry out my research, I came across the Aynho herd in Oxfordshire. It is the second oldest Aberdeen Angus herd in England spanning 112 years. I was able to sculpt a bull from life, working in a field at Aynho directly from a breed champion bull.
Much prized for the premium quality of their beef, the Aberdeen Angus is a powerful, proud animal. They have a wide chest and stocky legs and are hardy and tough. First recorded in Scotland 500 years ago, they are perfectly adapted to survive a harsh winter out on the hillside. Although they are undoubtedly a power-house, Aberdeen Angus Bulls are also surprisingly placid in nature.
Another favourite of mine has got to be the Highland Cattle. With a name like Hamish Mackie it would have been rude not to sculpt a few Highlands over the years! But it isn’t just because of my Scottish heritage – they are enormously appealing, both in looks and temperament. Exceptionally hardy, they thrive in the harshest terrain where other cattle could not live. This distinctive breed now thrives all over the world. They have remained unchanged over the centuries, with their shaggy coats and long horns. I saw a particularly fine beast on my way back from the Isle of Ulva in the Hebrides last year. He would make a handsome bull sculpture!
I have recently finished sculpting White Park Bull 2017 and White Park Bull Head 2017. White Park cattle are an ancient British rare breed, descended from the Celtic wild white cattle. Two thousand years ago, large numbers lived through most of the British Isles. By the Second World War, however, their numbers had dwindled. Concerns for the survival of the breed prompted a small herd to be shipped to the United States for safekeeping. Chosen as the emblem for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, these cattle hold a special place in British cultural heritage. They have been an inspiration to artists over millennia. White Park feature in Palaeolithic cave paintings and Edwin Landseer’s 1887 painting, The Wild Cattle of Chillingham. They were a privilege to sculpt knowing their importance and heritage.
I am really excited to be starting a new commission soon for another significant British breed, the English Longhorn. With their distinctive brindle red to grey coats and long forward curving horns, they look a bit menacing! Surprisingly though, they are fairly even-tempered. Bred firstly as a work animal, the Longhorn later became prized for other qualities. It yields dairy produce with a high butterfat content which made it a valuable commodity. Similarly, its horns provided material for the production of buttons, lamps, vessels and cutlery. Selective breeding in the 18th century improved the beef yield. This was important for feeding the large numbers of urban migrants during the Industrial Revolution. But by the 1960s the breed was dying out. Thankfully, the intervention of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1980 has seen a welcome resurgence.
Cattle are always going to be a favourite subject of mine. One day, I would love to sculpt a full size bronze bull at the same scale as my Bull Head 2011. Perhaps like the Wall Street Bull sculpture that stands in Bowling Green, Manhattan, New York. Recently, my daughter and I were looking at some amazing pictures of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Now that really would be a dream commission!
If you would like to discuss a commission with Hamish for a cattle sculpture or any other limited edition bronze or silver sculpture, check out the Commissions Page for more information or ring 01608 737859. Alternatively, fill in the form on the Contact Page and Hamish will get back to you.