by Victoria M. Howard
The sport of harness racing has its very own superstar artist named Nadina Ironia.
Born in Latvia, Ironia re-located to Ireland in 2009.
“It feels like I was born with dreams about horses and a set of brushes, but professionally I took up painting in my mid 20’s while I was in college,” Ironia said.
“The first set of trotters I sketched was in 2005 after I fell in love with the sport, but serious interest in painting harness racing began when Christine Cone commissioned me to paint her champion, Hot Shot Blue Chip, to celebrate his millionaire status in 2012. That was it: I was hooked and there was no going back.”
Cone was so pleased with Ironia’s work, that she now owns a total of 10 paintings done by the talented artist, featuring her horses Hot Shot Blue Chip, Maven, and Mystery Woman.
Top trainer Casie Coleman, who has developed and trained several champion stallions such as American Ideal, Betting Line, Sportswriter and Betterthancheddar, hired Ironia to paint her superstars and the great McWicked is soon to be added to the list.
Ironia has painted European champions such as Timoko, Bold Eagle, (his champion sire) Ready Cash, Up And Quick, Facetime Bourbon, Scarlet Turgot, Readly Express, and Belina Josselyn. More well-known superstars are currently in progress and will be displayed during the Prix d’ Ameriqué 2020 this weekend in Vincennes. This will be Ironia’s second invitational exhibition in Paris.
So how does this talented woman capture the beauty of the horse and how difficult is it?
“After 25 years of working with horses, knowing the anatomy and equipment of different equine disciplines, I wouldn’t say it is difficult to me, but it can be super tricky to create details where I don’t see any from old photos, poor lighting, odd angles, etc.
“I not only see the fragility of the horse, but I feel it and deal with it every day. A horses ‘look’ tells me a lot about how they feel and what they are thinking. I am a person who is very much into the animal’s feelings and emotions and I want to transfer those feelings onto canvas.
“Reference photo is also very important. I do try to work from my own photos; unfortunately, it’s not always an option for horses that are based abroad. Luckily, there are great photographers who the clients arrange a photo shoot for their horse, or they agree on reproduction of racing images. I still study more than one photoset to know a little more about each horses’ features and the equipment they wear.
“I was recently hired by Le Trot to paint in Vincennes for a winner of the Grand National Trot series. Given only two hours to complete the painting was very challenging and due to the winning horse not being victorious the final race (he finished 6th), I had to use photos from the entire season to capture ‘his looks’; but I think I nailed it for the proud owner was showing off his prize to others.”
Ironia said it was hard to choose a favorite from her work.
“I have an emotional bond with most of my paintings, for I give a little part of my life to each piece. However, if I have to pick one I guess it would be the painting “Sweetheart” (Newtown Jody). I painted it last year before she started performing her champion miles.
“Newtown Jody was born at Newtown Stud, where I spend every morning grooming horses. Her dam, Onyx Killean, is charismatic, sweet and was extremely talented while racing in Canada. In fact, Onyx is the first to greet me in the paddock. I love all of her foals.
“When Jody was born, Onyx proudly invited me to observe her newborn gem. Later, Jody was in the racing barn with us and to me it was so special to be with her. She will always be a ‘sweetheart’ to me (thus the title of her painting) and I’m very proud of her. I will always have special feelings to the foals, for my journey began at the stud farm.
“And as far as other things I enjoy painting: every horseperson has a dog, and I also love painting dogs.”
Having seen many of Ironia’s paintings, I asked if she is open to take on private jobs for people who would like a portrait of their four-legged child.
“I paint 99 per cent on commission for clients. I really wish I had more time to create my own, but due to a busy schedule between work for IHRA (I do marketing and run Pony Races in Irish Harness Racing Association), stables, photography and events, I have very limited time left for painting. Horses are my life and it is hard to tell where the hobby ends and work begins,” she said.
“Thanks to horses I have traveled a lot and met so many wonderful people. In order to really get the feeling of my subject, I have to be there and feel the atmosphere of the races. Prix d’ Amerique and Elitloppet are pretty inspiring to me, both as an artist and horseperson.”
Unlike other artists, Ironia doesn’t take part in competitions, stating her award is the customer’s appreciation and happiness.
“I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Art is all about personal preferences. Someday, I would love to see The Hambletonian or International Trot in the flesh, but again, it all takes time. Someday I’d be happy to challenge myself and produce a collection for North America’s public.”
For all who would like to contact Nadina or observe her work, go to her website: www.ironia-art.com.