Collector’s Focus: Art of the Horse
Xenophon, the Greek philosopher and student of Socrates, wrote, “A horse is a thing of beauty… none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor.” Members of the North American genus Equus migrated west across the Bering Land Bridge millions of years ago and populated the land as far south as Africa. Horses became extinct in North America, and their descendants were brought here by the Spanish in the 16th century. The Spanish horses, although domesticated, are the same biological species as the horses that once roamed freely on the plains. Horses that strayed have repopulated the plains of their ancestors. Yet a controversy persists as to whether the horses are native or feral, a distinction that affects their future.
Greg Beecham’s painting Wind in Their Hair, Wild Mares of the Onaqui Herd, depicts horses in the Onaqui Mountain Herd Management Area in Utah, where the herd is managed by the Bureau of Land Management to keep it at a size the land can support. Beecham and his wife
enjoy riding their horses high in the Rockies in Wyoming. His motto is, “Do all things as unto the Lord, and get so good you can’t be ignored.”
Beecham’s paintings have a liveliness and depth because of his careful manipulation of light and thick impasto of paint. The wild horses in Wind in Their Hair seem to occupy their own 3-dimensional space within the 2-dimensional picture plane. Jill Soukup also applies paint freely, pushing distant horses into abstraction yet maintaining depth in the closely packed composition of Grey Swerve. Her strong compositions come from a career as a graphic designer before she devoted herself full-time to painting.
She says, “Through my disparate subjects— static urban and architectural scenes, and the richly kinetic moments that define Western ranch life—i constantly work to hone and develop my craft by challenging the abstract components of a painting to come to together in an intentional, representational way.”
Even horses rest—howard Post depicts two idle horses lounging under a Shade Tree by the River. The cool river flows through the hot landscape and spots of sunlight shine through the leaves. Post also taught graphic arts until he
decided to paint the activities of the ranch life he had known since he was a boy. Post’s painting style is distinctly his own, with reminders of Maynard Dixon and Wayne Thiebaud. The edges in his paintings are always lively as different colors interact in an effect called “halation.” Post’s mastery of the phenomenon suggests the heat of the ranch environment. The colors are rich in the rocks on the far side of the river, although we interpret them as bleached by the sun. The musculature of the standing horse in the shade is defined by passages of blue.
Lynn Wade agrees that “it’s all about light and shadow.” She was raised in the horse country of Maryland and is an experienced horsewoman. She depicts a mare and her foal in Room to Grow, the mare intent on grazing and the colt intent on whoever is watching them. Wade had always drawn horses, but at the age of 40 she picked up a paint brush for the first time. Mentored by Lanford Monroe, who had been influenced by John Clymer, and Bob Kuhn, who lived near her in Connecticut, Wade carries on a distinguished tradition.
The beauty of the horse on its own, unfettered for work or sport, brings to mind a passage from the naturalist Henry Beston: “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”
In the pages of this special section, readers
will find equine subject matter from some of the leading artists and galleries, the inspiration behind the artwork, as well as insight on collecting these masterful works.
Pencil, colored pencil and oil artist Barbara Anne Ramsey depicts the hardworking nature of draft horses, many of which still work on Western ranches today, explaining the importance she finds in honoring these workhorses through her art. “I try to capture the unique personality and spirit of each of these powerful horses for everyone to enjoy,” Ramsey says.
For Corrina Johnson, her love of horses and passion for creating equestrian art began as a child. Johnson explains that growing up in the country she often spent time at the home of her neighbors, who owned several horses. “I was always horse crazy and never grew out of it. I loved drawing and painting them,” she says. Johnson has owned her current horse for the past 20 years.
“I am a fifth-generation Colorado native who has been living and breathing horses for as long as I can remember,” says multitalented artist Cassandra Sharon, whose work is featured at Dancing Wolf Gallery. A drawer, painter and sculptor, Sharon says she’s experimented with a variety of mediums “in a rainbow of colors, textures and patterns.” Her sculpture Blanket for a Friend is crafted from ceramic paper clay.
Fine art photographer Brady Willette began The War Pony Project as a way of honoring the history of the Native American horse tribes and the horses that helped protect their traditions and liberty. In his piece, Red, White and Blue / Standing Rock, photographed on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, Willette says he used “patriotic colors to recognize the long history of American Indians serving in the Armed Forces.”
All of fine art photographer Bri Cimino’s images are shot on horseback, infusing a deeper sense of connection to the equestrian subject matter of her work. “That particular vantage, coupled with the anonymity of the human subjects, invites us to identify with these riders and, for the moment that we experience a photograph, to feel ourselves in that state of communion with horse and land,” says Cimino.
The oil paintings of Karen Boylan often take a close-up, detailed approach, capturing
“Aside from accurate rendering of anatomy, I feel the most important aspect of an equine portrait is the play of light and softness in the coat, tail and mane.” — Sarah Kennedy, artist
the glimmer in a horse’s eye or the veins in its face. “I don’t feel the need to paint the entire animal to convey the motion or emotions of my subject. The flip of a mane or the look in the eye can convey their spirit, their anticipation or just how cute a little colt can be,” Boylan says. She adds that when collecting artwork, the primary motivation should be the energy and excitement the viewer feels from a painting.
Charcoal artist Rox Corbett encourages collectors to “embrace black and white and monochromatic work,” adding that the scarcity of this type of artwork can add inherent value to it. “I love charcoal for its depth, richness and versatility, even [though] it is such a simple medium—burnt wood,” says Corbett. “I use it to celebrate horses in all their power and beauty, whether untouched by human hands, or doing the work we ask of them,” she says.
Sarah Kennedy of Kennedy Desert Art has been painting horses since she was six years old. “I am inspired when I am able to design my paintings so that the viewer has a unique experience of the subject. In Two Step, the rider is deliberately cropped, and the perspective of the horse at front and center creates a personal, intimate connection.”
For those who can’t get enough of those Western sensibilities, The Stampede Western Invitational Art Exhibit gives art enthusiasts the opportunity to meet and purchase artwork from some of the most renowned artists, with the opening night gala kicking off on June 21. “Stampede Western is the best kept secret in the Western art world,” says founder and organizer Shirley Holland, adding that up-and-coming artists Chad Poppleton, Jeremy Winborg and Don Oelze will be in attendance.
5. Barbara Anne Ramsey, Three Bays, colored pencil, 16 x 20" 6. Barbara Anne Ramsey, Wind Blowin’, colored pencil, 22 x 22" 7. Rox Corbett, Buffalo Dreams, charcoal on rag paper, 25 x 17"
8. Bri Cimino, Plaza Blanca, archival pigment
print, 18 x 20" 9. Bri Cimino, Charlotte, archival pigment print, 20 x 30" 10. Rox Corbett, Tango, charcoal on rag paper, 39 x 22" 11. Stampede Western Invitational, The Milford Gang, oil on canvas, 24 x 24", by Jody Robb. 9
16 12. Sarah Kennedy, Two Step, oil on linen panel, 16 x 12" 13. Brady Willette, Red, White and Blue/standing Rock, photography and digital art, 27 x 36"
14. Corrina Johnson, Out of the Red, oil, 36 x 24" 15. Corrina Johnson, Isabelle, oil, 24 x 36" 16. Karen Boylan, Unbridled, oil, 20 x 16" 17. Karen Boylan, Cute As a Button, 10 x 8" 18. Dancing Wolf Gallery, Blanket for a Friend, ceramic paper clay, 15 x 13", by Cassandra Sharon.