A CURIOUS painting of a farmer riding a bull jumping through a ring of fire has sparked a new relationship in York.

Popular street food venue Spark:York in Piccadilly turned five earlier this month and celebrated with a series of events across five days of festivities including an exhibition held by the resident artists of Spark Studios from May 5-7.

The show aimed to give local people an opportunity to meet the makers, see their artworks, and visit the space where they create every day.

Among a diverse collection of artworks was an oil painting called 'William The Bull' by Leon François Dumont, a York artist specialising in dramatic portraiture and colourful illustration.

Read next:

York Press: 'William the Bull' by Leon François Dumont'William the Bull' by Leon François Dumont (Image: Spark:York)

The painting was inspired by a real-life historic feat carried out by Colin Newlove and his four-year-old bull jumping through a flaming ring in 1962.

Colin was a farmer from the village of Bugthorpe, East Yorkshire. which was also Leon's home from 2010-2018.

Colin made his living training horses, specifically those with behaviour problems, and rejected at racetracks. He was taming them and turning them into winners. Passionate about training animals that had never been trained before, Colin saw potential in one of the bulls, William. The bull seemed to have a natural talent for jumping. In the early 1960s, Colin began to train William using traditional horse-breaking techniques and eventually was able to ride him like a horse over jumps. Colin's ambition took them all the way to the Great Yorkshire Show, where the flaming ring spectacle took place. The feat granted Colin local fame, with the Pathé newsreel from 1962 bringing his achievement to a wider audience, which then led to several articles across the world.

Fast-forward to 2018, the exact same video was shared with Leon as a curiosity by Kayti Peschke who used to make ceramics with the artist at “Make n Take Ceramics” in Bugthorpe. Leon was deeply impressed with Colin's accomplishment and his steadfast spirit. The image of the flaming ring jump stuck with him until January 2020 when he finally decided to transfer it onto a canvas in his own reimagining of this historical event.

Leon said: ''Viewers may question the methods used to train William and other animals like him, though Colin held the conviction 'there's no way I could force a bull to do something he didn't want to'.

"The painting serves both as a celebration of an impressive historical feat, an enduring British eccentricity, and a reminder of the ongoing need for the ethical treatment of animals.''

York Press: Spark, where the exhibition took placeSpark, where the exhibition took place (Image: Supplied)

Through a remarkable coincidence, the family of Colin Newlove, who died in 2005, found out about the painting being showcased on Piccadilly.

Colin's granddaughter, Alice Jeffery saw a photo of the piece shared on Instagram by Mark Bewick who attended a private viewing of the exhibition prior to its official launch. Mark Bewick is one of the creators of Nima, a York-based brand management agency, which has also founded York Fashion Week and remains its marketing partner. This is where Alice met Bewick as she worked on the content creation for the fashion event.

Alice said: ''I was looking at my Instagram stories and came across his which was the painting of grandpa. I messaged him about it to find out where it was and then Friday we came to see it. It’s funny to think that if I hadn’t helped at YFW I would not have found the painting.''

As a result, the exhibition was attended by Colin's daughter Lynn Jeffery, his son-in-law Andrew Jeffery, and two granddaughters Alice and Lucy. They met with Leon and shared a heartwarming conversation about the piece and Colin himself. 

York Press: Lynn Jeffery and family with William the Bull at SparkLynn Jeffery and family with William the Bull at Spark (Image: Spark:York)

Leon is currently working on a custom print for the Colin's relatives.

He said: “To meet someone for whom the painting means so much on its second day in public absolutely made my weekend if not the whole year.” 

His painting can be viewed in the Pyramid Gallery on Stonegate until June 25.

York Press: The painting on display in the Pyramid GalleryThe painting on display in the Pyramid Gallery (Image: Spark:York)