Driving to meet artist, Nic Fiddian Green, I do not feel like I am in Surrey. It is deeply rural and the quiet hills feel more like Southern Gloucestershire. It seems a world away from Marble Arch, where Nic’s 35ft ‘Horse to Water’ stands peaceful in the restless city.
A winding drive takes me down past donkeys and sleek hunters in exercise sheets right up to Fiddian Green’s current home. Nic and his family have only recently occupied this house, having narrowly escaped a house fire in their barn last May. Saved by a previous visit from a conscientious fireman, the family are now camped out at Henrietta’s parents’. However, the house shows no sign of turmoil or displacement, the hall is lined with enough wellies for a caterpillar and a sign on the door reads ‘All You Need Is Love’.
As I arrive, Nic is working on some charcoals of The Slave Gate in Marrakech, a sort of sabbatical project. It is immediately obvious that the creator of this charcoal is one and the same as the creator of ‘Horse at Water’.
Nic was born in Ireland. Caught doodling a heron on the kitchen table, Nic was only seven when his family first realised his potential. Without other artists in the family, Nic has always been interested in understanding where his talents came from. The closest he has come was in recently tracking down a distant relative, who is an architect. As a teen, he decided to seriously pursue his art and relocated to England to attend the Chelsea School of Art.
Waving a piece of charcoal at a 8ft drawing of ‘Horse to Water’ on an easel at one side of the room and a Moroccan scene at the other, he speaks of his three horses. It is the culmination of 30 years of work: a Greek horse’s head, noble and ready for battle; a Spanish one, curved and ready to raise its knees; and, lastly, ‘Horse to Water, an immensely moving piece, defined by its majesty and stillness.
I am here to make Nic an overcoat. This means a piece that will connect him with nature as he marches through marshes and the hills and valleys of England, mulling and musing; a coat whose storm flaps will be lifted by the wind in his wake and whose pockets are large enough to hold sketchbooks, charcoal and apples snugly.
It transpires that we are both huge fans of tweed and Nic digs out an elegant coat he had made for his wife in a soft light brown tweed from the Islay woollen mill. Endless tweed jackets and waistcoats appear from the wardrobe, including Nic’s first adult coat, which was made for him when he was a student at Chelsea by Eddie from Redwood and Feller on Rochester Row. Back then, Nic swapped with Eddie a horse’s head for this great coat, although I can’t help thinking that nowadays it would take more than one great coat to make such a swap. We talk at length about how the coat should make him feel: safe in a storm on a hill. We pick a Harris in soft browns. Nic is such a tweed fan that he comes ready with his own swatches from a mill on the Isle of Mull.
I follow Nic’s Land Rover to his studio: a barn, high on the hills, in total isolation. Outside sits a mound of cast-offs of work, the entrance way appearing as a sort of giant’s waste land. Large hands made of plaster, a cast-off from a project for the Royal Marsden, block my path.
We drink warming, black coffee from a mug that was previously an ashtray and before that a brush pot, poured form a plaster splattered kettle. We speak of the Leukaemia he contracted in 2006 and when he recovered three years later, how the year 2010 was his greatest, installing three monumental horses at Marble Arch, Ascot Racecourse and on the Trundle Hill overlooking Goodwood racecourse and the veil running down to the southern shores of England and he says, not forgetting, installing his first running water and windows at the studio in his abandoned studio.
We are surrounded by horses’ heads in various stages of copper, plaster and clay. To my left is a prototype of a pig’s head that I think looks vaguely bemused by the whole scene and ahead of me is the beginnings of a whole horse, which Nic tells me has been abandoned; for him it’s all about the head.
He is happiest here at 5am, watching the sunrise and working in silence. This cold space depicts a sort of nonchalant minimalism. The few things that are there have been placed with an artists eye; objects found and discarded along the way are propped and placed with care and pots with warning signs for creating the green patina on his finished bronzes staked on trolleys in ordered chaos.. He points to a ‘Horse to Water’ maquette (or model or prototype) that may be going to be commissioned to stand at the entrance to a bank in China. It is clear that Nic’s works are landmarks; and Ros Packer with her family bought the majestic and powerful ‘Greek Horse', 36 ft high titled 'I Will Search Beyond for a Distant Land' to stand beside her late husbands grave serving as a memorial to Kerry's life.
Back in my own studio with Nic’s first overcoat for guidance, I start drawing details, trying to bring Nic’s personality and feelings for this piece to life. As I lay the overcoat on my cutting table, three acorns and a piece of string fall out of the pocket. Against the tweed, they make a perfectly symbolic still life of my time with Nic. As a creator myself, it is an enormous privilege to create a piece for the artist who says 'you don’t see unless you look'. Perhaps, the coat will have a small but special pocket for acorns that he might find along the way….
In His own words ...
1. Brief daily routine
5am start, up, bowl of porridge, cream and sugar.
Then to the studio, 1 mile from home, working, facing east, looking through the window across the fields to witness the dawn, working.
Silence as the day awakes, working through the day, sometimes stopping for lunch, then working until it is dark and I am feeling tired and ready to return home for supper.
2. Description of view from studio
On top of a windswept hill, it is a redundant sheep shearing shed, bleak, agricultural building.
It faces south and east and gazes out across arable farmed fields to a distant wood that disappears down the hill into the valley.
It is a silent place, only the sound of the birds
3. Do you ride, how often, name of horse?
George - weekends with my wife and children - it is always exhilarating and uplifting
4. Favourite sporting event, horse related
Goodwood, late summer evening race meetings - gazing out across the South Downs in the evening light, long evening shadows stretching out across the South Downs and looking south out across the Selset peninsular, across the Solent and out to sea, and looking north across the fields of England.
5. Do you feel you have perfected the horses form?
No, no way, I have not perfected it (nor will I ever), but maybe I am getting closer.
6. Proudest Moment
Birth of my first child
7. What's next
The Marwari Horse in India.....and another step on the journey
A curious collection of tweed.
The view from Nic's studio.
Finishing a piece.