"Nations Best Equine Artist"

The Art Of

Michael Geraghty

 
 

Biography

 

 

~ A Fortunate & Interesting Life ~

Little League Sports & High Performance Jets to High Performance Horses

People often ask me, "How long did it take to paint that picture?" My answer is a lifetime.  It's sincere because all of my experiences have influenced the style of art I produce.

I'm a Marylander.  I was born there in 1961 and live there today.  Not many know this, but my formal education in Fine Art is really just window-dressing.  My fundamental art talent derived from my parents.  In fact, Hugh & Marion Geraghty gave a certain degree of artistic skill to all six of their sons.  Yep, I'm one of six brothers ... with no sisters.  As a father of only two, I don't know how my parents did it.  Regardless, I'm confident they're resting in peace.

I'm the only sibling who pursued art as a profession.  And today, I'm proud to say the artistic skill of the Geraghty Line hasn't ended.  I'm uncertain about my nephews or niece, but my two grammar school-age sons, John & Christopher, produce artwork which could pass for the skill level of a high school student.   Pedigree and how it perpetuates is truly a miracle.

It was around 8th grade I decided I wanted to make my living as an artist who depicted sports scenes.  I just loved sports.  My dad,  from New York City,  was an Industrial Photographer for the Federal Government in Washington, DC.  Every day he brought home 2 newspapers:  The now defunct Washington Star and the New York Daily News.  I'd clip the sports cartoons of artists Bill Gallo and Bruce Stark of the Daily News, and copied the ones I liked best.  I envisioned sports cartooning to be a potential cool lifestyle.

At the same time,  I was quite familiar with artist LeRoy Neiman.  He was painting every major sporting event from all over the world.  He was at ringside for Muhammad Ali fights, in the pits during the 24 Hours of LeMans and on the sideline of Super Bowls.  I admired that an artist could be intimately accepted among sportsworld royalty.  It didn't hurt my perception, either, that Neiman was often seen with close friend Hugh Heffner and some his employees.  Obviously, a lifestyle of portraying the world's most fabled sporting events was highly appealing to me.  So I figured I had my choice:  After I won a few Super Bowls as quarterback for the New York Jets,  I'd follow Neiman's path with Fine Art, or draw sports cartoons for a major city newspaper.

I was seven-years-old when I recognized I could draw better than others my age.  However, it wasn't through art class I discovered this fact.  Because my penmanship was apparently so nice, I was hand-picked to write a letter to the newly inaugurated President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.   The letter would be from the entire MacArthur Junior High School second grade.

My teacher wrote the content of the letter on the chalkboard.  As I transcribed it at a desk right next to hers,  a classmate asked why it was only Mike Geraghty who got to write the President?   I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Our teacher, Mrs. Sink,  replied, "because Michael is the best artist in the second grade.  He also has the best handwriting.  And since this a letter to the President of the United States, we want it to be very special."   Looking back, an amazing aspect was they had me sign it, too.  It was on behalf of the class, but distinctly written by Michael Geraghty.

In short order, Mrs. Sink's 1969-70 second grade class received back an impressive package from the White House.  It was box, replete with stickers, pencils and photos -- including one ostensibly signed by the president.  It came with a thank you letter on White House stationary and it distinctly mentioned my name.  I was proud as a peacock, and would give a thousand dollars today for that letter.  Next year, in the 3rd grade a teacher made a big deal over an illustration I did of locomotive.  I couldn't have been more flattered when she asked to keep it.  From that point forward, the prospect of becoming an artist never escaped my mind.

But first -- before a career of painting all day in solitude was settled -- I had some other ambitions.  Again, I wanted to quarterback the New York Jets, but also fly supersonic jets.  By age 22, a case could be made that I realized one of the two dreams.

 

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Immediately following high school I joined the Air Force.  I was 18 and wanted to follow my brother Patrick's footsteps and see the world; do exciting things.  Patrick was in the Navy.  I first thought about the Air Force as a young boy.  My dad was in the US Air Force during the Korean War.  He often spoke of the importance of each American "holding up their end" through service to country.  I agreed.  College could wait until I served my time and saw the world.

Due to my art skill, the Air Force recruiter invited me to become a Graphic Designer, but I had no interest in an office environment.  I wanted to be outdoors -- and near aircraft.  You need a minimum of a bachelor's degree to qualify for pilot training, so I became an Aircraft Armaments Systems Specialist.  At technical school in Denver, Colorado, I studied weaponry systems of Attack, Bomber and Fighter aircraft.  During school, they hand you a map of the world.  It's cynically called a "Dream Sheet."  The military allows you to specify all the places you'd prefer to be stationed, both at home and abroad.  I eagerly circled US Air Force bases in Europe, Asia - you name it.  I covered the globe.  However, at graduation, when my Orders were handed to me, they said "Report to Edwards Air Force Base, California."   Oh well, no Great Britian for me.  To officially start my career, I was going to the isolated Mojave Desert.   At least it was sunny southern California -- and only 80 miles from the beaches which held the promise of all those girls the Beach Boys sung about!

I didn't know a thing about Edwards Air Force Base. Turns out it's the United States Air Force Flight Test Center.  In other words, it's not an "active" or defend-the-country base.  Rather, everything that flies is first tested there.  It's also the home of the USAF Test Pilot School.  Edwards is steeped with more historical feats than any Air Force base in American history.

Subconsciously, most Americans are quite familiar with Edwards AFB.  It first obtained international fame to your grandparents in 1947.  It was over Edwards that test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in the Bell X1.  To recent generations, it's known for 2 things: Featured in the popular book and movie, "The Right Stuff," and as the base with the enormous dry lake beds where the NASA Space Shuttle lands.  In fact, on April 19, 1981,  I was on hand to witness the first ever Shuttle landing.  Sadly, the spaceship was the same ill-fated Columbia which broke apart over Texas in 2002.

While at Edwards AFB, my flightline work dictated a Top Secret Clearance.  Sadly, I learned quickly this esteemed credential would prevent me from international travel.  It was deemed I'd been exposed to too many secretive programs.  So there went any plans of exotic travel on Uncle Sam's dime!   I decided to make the best of my tour at Edwards.  In short order, I'd find out how lucky I was to not be able to leave.  Through the many test and research projects going on, I eventually worked my way into a job where I was able to fly in supersonic aircraft.  The planes I flew in --- the T-38 Talon and F-4 Phantom -- are two-seaters.  The pilot drove the aircraft from the front seat and I did my work from the backseat.  Everything I did was in a "chase" or "target" plane capacity; I can't say much more.  It was Edwards AFB ... something was always being tested.  I can say I literally flew with some of the best pilot's in the world.   Several were genuine heroes --- veterans of hundreds of missions over Vietnam.

Words fail to describe flight in a high performance aircraft.  I've broken the speed of sound and have flown so high - 58,000 feet - I've seen the curvature of the earth.  I've pulled "G's" to such excessive forces I temporarily blacked out.  I flipped a T-38 Talon 720 degrees (two complete turns) in one second.  The feats and memories go on and on.  It was a very fortunate time in my life.  Ironically, had I been granted my "Dream Sheet" wishes and been stationed places other than Edwards Air Force Base, I never would have flown in supersonic jets.

Had I not been blessed with such extraordinary art skill, I would have made the Air Force a career.  However, I had to find out if people would buy my art.  The final asset the USAF provided me was paying for art school and college.  I used the GI Bill to attend the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore city.

~My Business as an Artist~

Today, of all subject matter, why depict horse racing and football?   Simple, outside of my family, they're what I know best and enjoy most.  I like to tell collectors: I not only have a formal education in Art, but also in the two sports I paint.  They're my occupation and hobby.  I can't imagine ever tiring of portraying either sport. 

HORSES

As a point of reference, from my hometown of Maryland City, Baltimore is 25 minutes north and Washington, DC is 20 minutes south.  Growing up on the outskirts of a city, the first non-domestic animal I came in contact with was a Thoroughbred racehorse.  Laurel Race Course was walking distance from home.  In the town of Maryland City, on breezy days, the energetic stretch calls of the track announcer carries through open windows.  As far back as I can recall, the track had been a curiosity of mine.  My brothers and I used all the traditional and creative ways young boys use to sneak into some place.  You name it: We hopped fences, searched for open doors and crawled under turnstiles.

At age 15, I took my first paying job as a hotwalker at Laurel Race Course. In a sense, racehorses are like Olympic-caliber distance runners.  While "in training," they go out for long, slow jogs everyday and add near full-speed workouts as the get closer to a race.  Hotwalker's take horses for 30 minute walks around the barn to help them cool down after these morning training sessions. That daily experience of having to contend with their strength, athleticism and individual behaviors was the start of a priceless education in the physiology of the Thoroughbred.

The Value of Maryland Racing to the Industry - and My Career

I was extremely fortunate to cut my teeth in the sport at Laurel Race Course during the 1970s.  You see, before the inception of the Breeders' Cup,  Laurel Race Course played host to 3 of the most important stakes races in America. Laurel had the Selima Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, the Laurel Futurity for 2-year-old colts and the fabled Washington, DC International for the best turf horses in the world.

Nearly every notable horse of American racing lore raced in Maryland -- if not specifically at Laurel, and no decade was greater than the 1970s.  I stood at the rail as Secretariat bounded home to win the 1972 Laurel Futurity.  Six years later, in the same event, I watched one of the storied stretch duels between Affirmed & Alydar.  Maryland's own Spectacular Bid won it in 1979. In those days, the road to the two-year-old championship passed through Laurel Race Course.

From the beginning, I loved the atmosphere of racetrack -- whether it be the backstretch stable area or inside the clubhouse where betting took place.I was also drawn to the history of racing in my home state.Much to the chagrin of some teachers, I wrote numerous reports on the industry as a schoolboy.  How could I not?  Maryland racing couldn't be more interesting.

Over the past 250 years, Maryland has played a significant & historic role in shaping the national horse racing industry.  In 1743, the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) was established, including among its members George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Colonel Washington was a frequent guest of the MJC for races in Annapolis in the 1760s and 1770s.We know this because our first president kept meticulous records.  An entry from his diary indicates that he lost 1 pound, 2 shillings on the races in 1762.  Link to an additional bit_of_Maryland racing history

In summation, Laurel Race Course provided all the motivation and foundation I would need to succeed as an artist depicting the sport. My early experiences there were priceless.

FOOTBALL  ART

~ My Newest Venture  ~

Actually, in some respects, illustrating football scenes was my first venture.  In school I'd fill notebooks with drawings of football helmets and players.

Far back as I can recall, football has been part of my life.  My earliest recollections are watching Joe Namath and the New York Jets on our family's black & white TV in the late 1960's.  My parents were from New York, so that's who we watched - the Jets and the exciting, wide-open offenses of the upstart American Football League.  Ironically, Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts played just 30 minutes from our doorstep.  They were one of the best teams of the era, but we didn't follow them.

To this day, I don't know why I've been so taken by the sport of football.  I'm rational enough to admit the game doesn't stand tall.  It's violent and there's something wholly unnatural about people running into one another at full speed.  However, when everyone works together as a cohesive unit, it's a thing of beauty.

In 1972 -- at first opportunity for my age and weight combination -- I strapped on gear to play for my hometown team: the Maryland City 75 pounders.  I quickly discovered my interest in watching the game transcended to playing it.  It was love at first throw, catch and tackle.  The entire sport intrigued me.  I continued to play right through high school, but that's where the dream of being Joe Namath's successor ended.  I was good, but not good enough.

In moments of introspection, I think it's the great memories of playing organized football as a kid that explains why the game has never left my system.  These days I always coach my son John's team.

My indoctrination to College Football came from the historic New Year's Day bowl games I watched as a boy.  I watched 'em all.  I loved how they built parades around these big games, and fans by the tens of thousands traveled to cheer on their schools. Today, this is "my sport."  As a parent and coach of boy's club football, I much prefer the effort, class and pageantry of the college game.

~ THE FUTURE  ~

As of 2005,  I'm striving to re-structure my exclusive, year 'round commitments to Thoroughbred racing art.  I'm confident it'll succeed because the timing couldn't be more perfect.  For all intents and purposes,  racing goes into hibernation after the Breeders' Cup World Championships in November.  Yet concurrently, college football is at its most riveting point with Bowl Game invitations are at hand.  College football concludes in early January, and college basketball -- should I choose to paint that as well -- finishes in early April.  This scheduling provides an ideal opportunity for me to commemorate the champions of those popular sports before horseracing revs up again in May for the Kentucky Derby.  Call it Luck o' the Irish.

My first venture into the "collegiate market" (University of Maryland football scene) was so well received, I can't wait to continue.  I've been contacted by schools from all over the country, but haven't had the time for another scene.  It's now my goal to produce several new images every year.   I encourage you to sign up for my E-mail Notifications so I can make you aware of my progress.

The Gallery link below will take you back to my art.   Thanks for reading,  Mike Geraghty

 

 
 

Michael Geraghty  -  Email: MichaelGeraghtyArts@msn.com  -  Phone 301-602-4385

Copyright  1988 - 2005 Michael Geraghty  - All Rights Reserved