Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Artist Known as “Peb” Puts Del Mar’s History in Faces

Color and characters create a splashy history lesson at Del Mar, as the track prepares to open its 70th season of Thoroughbred racing next Wednesday.

The history becomes real through the unique artistry of Pierre Bellocq, known more familiarly as ˜Peb,” the longtime caricaturist for Daily Racing Form, and the special mural he has created for the track. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will hold an official unveiling of the piece on Saturday, July 25, with numerous characters in it expected to be on hand. The artist also will be there that day to sign posters.

Because Del Mar was always a haven for the Hollywood crowd, the mural is rife with celebrities, highlighted by co-founders Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien, as well Crosby’s “Road” pictures partners Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, beautiful people and prominent horse owners Harry James and Betty Grable, comedic husband-and-wife duo Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and actors Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.

Of course, what salute to Del Mar would be complete without “The Schnozz,” Jimmy Durante, a long-time regular at the course “where the turf meets the surf,” as well as comedy kings W. C. Fields and Red Skelton and the suave, malevolent “gangster” George Raft?

Among horse race figures are jockeys Johnny Longden, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye, George Woolf, Jerry Lambert and Ralph Neves from the past and Mike Smith, Alex Solis and Kent Desormeaux of a more recent vintage. Trainers include father-and-son Farrell and Gary Jones, Tom Smith of Seabiscuit fame, Buster Millerick, Ed Gregson, Bob Baffert, Ron McAnally, Charlie Whittingham, Robert Frankel, Jack Van Berg, Neil Drysdale and Richard Mandella.

Among the other major racetrack figures are C.S. Howard, E.B. Johnston, Clement Hirsch, John and Betty Mabee, Rex Ellsworth, Robert and Beverly Lewis, Sid and Jenny Craig and Allen Paulson.

The whimsical mural, which graces the east wall of the entrance to the track’s Clubhouse/Turf Club, figures to be a major attraction for racing fans at this meet and for years to come. The faces in the crowd no doubt will rekindle memories for oldtimers and tweak the interest of a younger generation of racing enthusiasts.

By mounting the mural, Del Mar joins Churchill Downs and Belmont Park

in displaying the artistic skills of the 82-year-old French-born Bellocq. He has completed racing murals for both those tracks, as well as a popular celebrity one at the famous New York City steakhouse Gallagher’s.

His Del Mar creation, 30 feet long and 6 feet high, was an 18-month project that created challenges for the slightly built artist, but meeting and overcoming those challenges has rewarded him. In such a colorful spread, special care had to be taken to make sure there were no color clashes. “To make each colorful character next to each other compatible in color is a continuous challenge,” Bellocq said. “But I loved everything about the project, especially the research and the composition.”

Bellocq acknowledges enjoying his work on the celebrities, “because,” he said, “celebrities are known all over the world and when you draw caricatures you have to keep it so it is recognizable. For instance, when I painted Ava Gardner, it was not satisfactory to my wife, so I had to redraw her so she [his wife] would be happy.”

The artist’s single-piece 30’ X 6’ canvas was purchased in Belgium, shipped first to San Francisco and then to his house and studio in Princeton, New Jersey, where he did the actual painting. It was next shipped to Del Mar and stretched, backed and mounted by a local framer – Mitschke’s – who had a crew spend several days on the job. When the mural was finally ready to be hung, it required 13 men to lift and position the piece on the track’s wall.

Del Mar’s gift shops – Silks Del Mar – will be selling posters of the mural starting on Opening Day and “Peb” will spend time near both its locations on July 25 signing the posters. The posters sell for $19, which includes tax.

Comments (0)

BallHype: hype it up!

Read more articles in the Del Mar category.