July 2011

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Sophie Christiansen MBE

British Paralympic Gold medallist Sophie Christiansen visited the Terminal 5 Expo Fine Art Gallery for an exclusive unveiling of a magnificent new portrait by artist Lesley Thiel. The renowned sculptor Susan Leyland also unveiled a fantastic sculpture inspired by Sophie and her mount during this celebration marking 365 days until the 2012 Games. Sophie, who is currently in training for the 2012 Paralympics, took time out of her rigorous training schedule to collaborate with the Terminal 5 Expo Fine Art Gallery artists.

Sophie Christiansen is a truly inspiring young woman: born prematurely with cerebral palsy Sophie began riding at age six as a form of physiotherapy. Less than twenty years later Sophie has won two gold medals and one silver in the Beijing Olympics and has been made an MBE for her services to disabled sport. Artists Lesley Thiel and Susan Leyland’s artwork will form part of the cultural legacy of the 2012 Olympics as well as the legacy of this amazing young woman.

Susan Leyland is widely known for her creation of Horse Block Sculpture: an innovative way of portraying the horse in art. Art historian Tamsin Pickeral explains further: “Susan Leyland’s work stands out for both its originality, and her striking, but simple use of pure form. Susan’s enormous empathy with and understanding of horse on a hands on level is reflected in the breadth and scope of her work”. This unique understanding of the horse and the important relationship between horse and rider has led Susan towards strong artistic collaborations with a number of equestrian athletes in the run up to 2012. After meeting Sophie on a number of occasions, Susan was inspired to explore the idea of the female form within the equestrian discipline, which is present in her beautiful new sculpture.

Lesley Thiel is a fine artist, renowned for her attention to detail and realistic portraiture. Lesley has received recent acclaim for a body of exquisite equestrian work and her portrait of Sophie Christiansen dynamically combines both her equestrian and human portraiture. Lesley was invited to spend time with Sophie both in training and in competition to prepare for her portrait. Lesley recalls “”watching [Sophie] ride, her body still and relaxed, her horse going flawlessly through his paces, it became clear just how much determination and skill she brings to her riding. [Sophie] is a lovely young woman of enormous talent and resolve, and I can only hope that I will be able to convey some small part of this in her portrait””.

Lesley Thiel’’s portrait and Susan Leyland’’s sculpture can be seen in the Terminal 5 Expo Fine Art Gallery in Heathrow Airport.

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