Racing Noir : a pair of original paintings by D M Dent
Racing Noir Part One: “Major Stevens and Hell of a Fear: High Stakes”
Racing Noir Part Two: “Top of the Head : A Shadow in the Ring”
Rita (Helene Stanton): "A woman doesn't care how a guy makes a living, just how he makes love." (The Big Combo 1955)
Marlowe (Bogart): “Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but I don't know how far you can go.”
Vivian (Bacall): “A lot depends on who's in the saddle.”(The Big Sleep 1946)
Connie Kelley (Arthur Kennedy): "Oh, this rotten business!"
Midge Kelly (Kirk Douglas): "Awwww, lay off the business. It's like any other business, only here the blood shows." (Champion 1949)
"I thought we agreed that women and gambling didn't mix."
"My wife does not come under the category of women."
Johnny(Genn Ford) and Ballin (George Macready) discussing Gilda (Rita Hayworth) (“Gilda” 1946)
"That isn't the way to play it."
"Cause it isn't the way to win."
"Is there a way to win?"
"There's a way to lose more slowly."
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and Kathie Moffat ( "Out of the Past")
These images are a celebration of the seductive qualities of Racing’s Dark Side. Yet here; in the Betting Ring of the 1940s or 50s; the Artist also shows there is light; redemption; sanctuary. The images are influenced by film noir and the sadly missed Dick Francis; but stylistically influences include pulp fiction and the graphic style and gothic undertones in characterisation of comics such as Batman and Watchmen.
The Artist David Dent presents these narrative images in which the viewer is asked to participate in the story telling. Some may see a love story that has turned sour; perhaps a ménage a trois or heavy gambling causing dischord; some may just see the excitement and atmosphere of the Betting Ring. On the other hand perhaps the characters are unrelated in terms of romantic attachment; maybe they are alone in the ring; or perhaps someone or some concern out of picture draws their attention. Perhaps other will see further in the tapestry played out by in the characters the artist has drawn.
Model Eliza modelled for the principle figure in “Top of the Head” - a femme fatale dressed in mink and a veiled hat – who clearly has an air of mystery. Yet; despite her dark sensuality, she stands straight. The dark figures looming over her however are on a skewed angle; oblique and ominous. The viewer is in no doubt a film noir is being played out here but deciding what is going on is another matter. The tic tac man who hangs ominously above her signals with his white gloves; but is it symbolic of darkness or a warning of an impending doom in the winds and dark clouds that are coming? Are his signals for the ring or does he make shapes of darker symbols? A clue can be found in the first image “Major Stevens and a Hell of a Fear”. It is wartime. As in many films of the period, the disrupted oblique camera angles and chiaroscuro, with strange disturbing or frightened characters, were a warning of the dark shadows cast by Nazism and later Communism. Does this have relevance for today? Look in the ring. Look at the characters. What we see here perhaps is not darkness but a security of our way of life; our traditions; our liberties. Perhaps there may be insidious threats on the horizon even now. But if not; perhaps it’s just rather sad that some of these things – tic tac men for instance – are just dying out with new technology etc. Also Racing itself faces threats – ironically partly because of the bookmakers reluctance to fund the levy racing desperately needs. All these are questions for the viewer to ask. Are the bookies our enemy or our friends; out to fleece us or trustworthy friends we banter with? A clue is given by the reassurances of ‘Honest Harry’ in image one and the bookmaker - the old Colonel turned bookie with his white moustache - paying out in image two.
But then the character in the trilby in the foreground clearly has anxieties – caused by gambling? a woman? You to decide: the character is based on an image of actor Robert Taylor at the races with Barbara Stanwyck in real life. If the woman, is it the woman in the second picture who looks away? If the images are part of the same story, same betting ring, then why are the horses in each picture going to post in opposite directions? Why do the binoculars watch in other directions? And – yes; the central figure in that image; is it not also the same woman as the woman in image two? A different day; recollections of how it started or distress that she is now with another? Or is she another femme fatale? Does she look at him with concern - or look beyond? And what of the man she stands with? The suave player; a playboy? A highly successful ex jockey turned trainer or bloodstock agent? And the next woman with dark glasses - yes; based on Barbra Stanwyck; what is her role? And what of the lady in the Jaguar coat with our Major? His unflinching love or a good time rockabilly girl?
All these for you to make your own narrative....and if you were in any doubt you are part of this complex story with dark undercurrents, look no further than the foreboding trainer like figure with the cap and stick in image two. Is he the steadfast incorruptible horseman? If so why does his staff lean so? Is he the redeemer or the reaper? A Rorschach? Does he beckon you to the security of our traditions and the Betting Ring (a metaphor for life?) or accuse you? Or perhaps just confide in you some information. You decide...or just enjoy for the nostalgic fashions and lifestyles of yesteryear...and whatever your destiny, let fortune shine on you in the Ring. Do you feel as at home there as the artist? Dystopia or Utopia – it’s your choice.
The paintings have been executed by David Dent in charcoal watercolour and gouache on brown paper.
The Original Paintings will be auctioned as one lot at The Silks Ball in aid of Racing Welfare; the Jockey Club Charity for those who have served racing – the backroom boys such as stalls handlers and work riders – and fallen on hard times or been injured etc. Please bid generously.
Limited edition Prints will be available shortly.
* Major Stevens and Hell of a Fear and Top of the Head are all Tic Tac terms; High Stakes is a novel by the late Dick Francis.