“Graphite is as powerful as it is unforgiving, as versatile as it is monotone. The day I understood this, the day I became friends with my chosen medium the world quite simply became my oyster (...)”
Sheona Hamilton-Grant is a graphite artist who works exclusively in black and white, creating photorealist works whose subjects are domestic animals (horses and dogs mainly), and the interaction with humans. For her, the power of the pencil is its simplicity, and its effectiveness as a vehicle for applying the philosophy less is more. “Black and white allows me to get to the essence of a subject and show emotion in a clear, direct way. It doesn’t distract the way colour can,” she says.
Throughout her work, Sheona reveals a deep appreciation for animals and their relationship with humans. The intricate detail and anatomical precision of the work, more than just an attempt to duplicate reality, serve to explore the whole context of domestication.
“Animals have always been a big part of my life, as long as I can remember” says Sheona. For 10 years she worked with horses professionally, as a groom and rider, with half that time spent working for an Olympic gold medalist in dressage from Germany. (Sheona, Scots born, grew up in Holland, France and Belgium—where she currently lives—and is fluent in three languages.)
Showing animals in a range of different circumstances—in repose, in action, with other animals, and with people—Sheona’s work illustrates many of the fundamental reasons humans find animals so alluring. She captures their beauty, grace, and vitality—their sheer adorableness that touches us in such an immediate way. Her pieces with humans and animals together express, on the most basic level, how beautiful it is when people bond with animals and some of the qualities of these bonds: spontaneity, playfulness, respect, and ultimately love.
A signature technique of hers, especially in the Equine Originals series, is to portray a small part of an animal in extreme close-up, almost to the point of abstraction, in order to isolate some essential features of both its physicality and its connection to humans. One piece, for example, showing part of a horse’s face, is a study in contrasts, between the bland functionality of a nylon head collar and a horse’s eye, radiating both calmness and intensity.
Working in the heart of the European equestrian world gave Sheona a unique opportunity to fully discover the beauty and mesmerizing presence of world-class horses. Then, in a major life change, she became a full-time mother and full-time artist, redirecting her passion for animals into her artwork. Children and an aura of domestic bliss, of which animals are an integral part, are key elements in some of her work.
Sheona Hamilton-Grant’s work is rooted in a medium that is simplicity itself—pencil—yet this simplicity is a means to a compositional and emotional complexity that would be unthinkable with the addition of any other tools or techniques. In presenting the intricacies of animals, how they look and move and express themselves, and the intimacies between animals and people, she is part of a rich artistic tradition whose larger subject is the wonder of nature—of which animals are certainly the most vivid incarnations—and how it enriches our lives in such profound ways.