Retrievers, Collies, Labradors, Spaniels, Terriers. You name any gun dog or canine involved in countryside pursuits, and the chances are that critically acclaimed dog and wildlife artist, Nigel Hemming has recreated its exact likeness in a host of suitably considered and expertly delivered hues and saturations. The difference is with a Hemming composition is that fans and collectors alike just know they’re going to get not simply ‘another’ dog piece, but one that’s painted and locked in that animal’s unique character and personality; right there in the canvas setting. Hemming’s recurrent capture of the inner most feeling of the dog at that precise moment of pictorial cementing is difficult to describe in words alone, suffice to say that you’re effectively staring into the dog’s souls, such is the depth of understanding and the deep-seated connections evident between the artist and the subject, who routinely depicts his muses with such human qualities. The expressions etched across the faces (large, small, pointy and other) and undiluted conveying of natural emotions in Hemming’s dog compositions are unequalled to our mind and serve to visually encapsulate that amazing and enduring relationship forged between man and his well-documented best friend.
Born in 1957, Hemming was raised in Kinver, a village situated in Staffordshire and pretty much from the off his passion and ability for painting was noted by those closest to him during Hemming’s formative years. The budding artist’s preferred subject matter in those early days were not the dogs he later became universally renowned for, but wild birds and landscapes we’re told. This was thanks in no small part to the plethora of vistas and abundance of wildlife Hemming had on his doorstep, having been brought up in such idyllic and rural a setting in this part of the Midlands.
At 18 Hemming said goodbye to secondary education and enrolled at Art College as you might have expected. Yet 12 months in Hemming decided that it wasn’t for him and instead changed tack completely at this juncture, choosing to pursue a potential career in teaching. Although Hemming held an ambition to paint professionally, he was also acutely aware that this amount to nothing more than a pipe-dream and in reality he needed a more structured career path in which to follow. However, this idea was equally as short-lived, and again a year later Hemming abandoned this route and prematurely terminated his degree course in Education; believing that all future roads didn’t necessarily lead to a classroom somewhere.
Eventually though Hemming couldn’t ignore his very obvious calling in life, despite his reservations as to whether or not he could earn a living from it, and in 1977 – and at the grand old age of 21 years – he bit the bullet and announced his arrival on the fine art scene. Which was, probably, one of the best decisions of his life, when you consider what he’s gone on to achieve since taking that massive leap of faith and striking out on his own when he did.
One of Hemming’s first dilemmas centred around the notion that he thought himself as more of a wildlife artist, yet in his heart of hearts realised that in order to launch himself in any genre and strive to make a name for himself he needed to establish a more lucrative subject in which to specialise. So he settled on an idea which at that point was somewhat alien a concept to Hemming, given that he’d never really spent much time and illustrative effort on his newly elected area; that of animal portraiture, with the emphasis firmly on dogs. Hemming saw how people interacted with their domestic pets on so many levels and believed that this would be the perfect springboard to his professional pictorial career.
In the weeks and months which followed, Hemming painted any animal requested of him and fulfilled briefs and commissions to commit all manner of domesticated animals to canvas; having said that there was a clear favourite emerging in terms of client’s requests, and way out in front of any other pet that was of course, dogs. The next series of events really formed the artistic catalyst of what, where and why Hemming became, as in 1982 he married his wife, Sue, who brought with her to the new family equation her pet dog and cat. This served as a first for Hemming who hadn’t previously lived with large pets, and it wasn’t long before he realised what he had been missing out on prior. It was at this specific juncture that Hemming witnessed for the first time that unspoken connection and erudite bond between a man/woman and their dog and just what they both meant to one another.
Immediately taking on visual board this relationship, Hemming’s work (and indeed, his approach to his work) began to alter accordingly, which culminated in a painting entitled, ‘In Retirement’. This was the first of Hemming’s (now signature) paintings which effectively fused a successful and emotion-tugging blend of pathos, character and narrative. It was met with much acclaim, and filled Hemming with the confidence to go forward with his new subject matter, and essentially (and in retrospect) represented a turning point in his career which ultimately led to his abandoning any serious desire to paint wildlife. This ultimately paved the way for what was to come, as Hemming focussed his illustrative efforts on canines and explored, developed and evolved the distinctive style of narrative dog painting that has become the hallmark of his work today. In Hemming’s own words, he concludes; “I try to paint pictures, not simply of dogs, but about dogs”. And we can all agree that he does just that, and with much aplomb and respect.