Drunks, races and whippets: the very British scenes of Lydia Blakeley

Inspired wholeheartedly by the daily events of her surroundings, the British artist paints scenes of popular culture – more specifically, those found in Crufts, Royal Ascot and the British racecourse.

13 January 2020


“Painting is a slow medium, and for me, it’s all trial and error; it’s not always easy but I enjoy the struggle,” says British artist Lydia Blakeley. Drawn in by its reflective process and means of distilling a moment in time, Lydia paints with utmost contemplation. Having achieved an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths last year and completed a BA in Fine Art from Leeds College of Art, she has since exhibited at various solo shows in London predominantly and across the UK, with work featured in Elephant, Garageland magazine and Creative Boom – she was also the cover star of Elephant’s most recent printed issue. How she got here, however, wasn’t a simple path.

“My upbringing wasn’t especially creative,” she goes on to tell It’s Nice That. Post-sixth form, she experienced an “off the rails” moment in her teens and ended up working in pubs, shortly followed by a career in retail for over a decade. She continuously took part in creative courses and evening classes on the side, which became beneficial when she decided to pursue further studies. “I came into art quite late on,” she says, “and it wasn’t until I was 33 years old that I went to university; I just reached a moment in my career that it felt right to return to education.” Resultantly she garnered an in-depth knowledge of her medium and things really started to take off. “My path has not been straightforward, but things rarely are!”

Now, Lydia paints scenes of popular culture – more specifically, those found in Crufts, Royal Ascot and the drunken debauchery of the British racecourse. Snapshot-like in style and drawing on aspects of photorealism, her work observes the usual antics of the Brits, where narcissism, celebration and, of course, a healthy dose of competitiveness takes centre stage – inspired wholeheartedly by the daily events of her surroundings. “I’m constantly aware of and recording the world around me,” she says, attained through means of taking photographs, videoing and taking screenshots, or even by physically ripping out pages from magazines or papers. “The beauty of it is that I can react to something that inspires me from out of the blue or I can return to something years after I first found it,” she adds.


Lydia Blakeley: The Pony Club, Oil on linen, 250×180cm (2019)

Lydia’s interest in the process of slowing things down transpires directly through her work. Referring to herself as the “master procrastinator”, she will embark on admin and life tasks first off in order to clear some space for painting in the afternoon. When at her easel, music or a boxsets playing in the background becomes her soundtrack. “I think I’ve watched every series of Mad Men on Netflix around eight times, just zoning in and out of it as I work,” she says. “I guess many artists would find it too distracting, but somehow it really helps me and blocks everything else out.” When putting brush to canvas, she will usually dive in without any roughs, beginning with a bright pink underpainting before planning the initial sketch with a chalk pastel. Next, she will add a “wash” of colour and later revisit the painting twice more to build on its details – amounting to a multitude of paintings on the go at any given time. “I use the same medium, which almost glazes it as I go along and gives the surface an evenness,” she explains. “Sometimes I need to step back from a painting when I am stuck or need to come back to it with fresh eyes.”

A result of this long-winded but detailed process is a painting titled The Pony Club. Although not her newest (it was made last year), Lydia cites it as her most favoured. Devised for a show called Full English at Platform in Southwark, the piece depicts a group of four young women – one of whom appears to be on the edge of throwing up. “Her concerned friends circle her,” she says. As a follow-up to a series created prior, titled National Velvet, the artworks look to denote the scenes from the British racing festivals such as Ascot or The Grand National at Aintree. “I attempted to convey the chaos and revelry of those kinds of events from the violent sporting action taking place to the spectators who are often and sometimes fighting.” The Pony Club is a continuation of this as it looks at an event held at Henley Regatta, the renowned rowing event.

The response to Lydia’s work thus far has been a positively uplifting one. Perhaps due to its familiarity, her honest creations take the negative connotations of such scenes and shifts them into a painting filled with humour. “The tabloids love to shame people following events like these, especially young women,” she concludes. “For me, this painting was meant to be a celebration of them and to some extent I can relate to it on a personal level.”

GalleryLydia Blakeley


Hero, Oil on linen, 220×150cm (2019)


Fall of the Damned, Oil on linen, 250×180cm (2019)


Debutante, Oil on canvas, 70×50cm (2019)


Dinosaurs (Norman and Bambi), Oil on linen, 60×40cm (2019)


The Winners Enclosure, Oil on linen, 40×30cm (2019)


Pointers, Oil on canvas, 50×70cm (2019)


Protection, Oil on linen, 220×180cm (2019)


Is This Internet Art? 1, Oil on Linen, 23×17cm (2019)


Whippet, Oil on canvas, 50×70cm (2019)

Hero Header

The Three Graces, Oil in linen, 180×250cm (2019)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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