Monday, August 17, 2009

Evolution of a Problem Painting


Blue Horse (the Laddy painting from last week's post) sparked a renewed interest in the horse as a subject for me. Not that I haven't always wanted to paint horses, but in school I was terrified of being that Horsey Girl who only painted My Little Ponies galloping across sunsets. I always felt like I was battling against a natural tendency to make "feminine" paintings, as one male professor put it. There's nothing wrong with feminine paintings; I just didn't want to make them at the time. So no horses.

There seemed no way (at the time) to paint them without drowning in the syrup of saccharine genre painting. So, that's why I'm anxious about painting horses. They are so laden with symbolism that it's difficult to make a horse painting that isn't cliche, banal or sentimental. The painter Susan Rothenberg pared the horse down to a featureless, tailless, canid-like body, and anchored the hulking bodies in a vacuum of pictoral space, but it worked. Well. I can learn a lot from her.

I thought I might post some pics of the evolution of this one horse painting in particular, because it seems to be giving me the most trouble. I wanted to use the elements of some of my abstract landscapes that were successful- atmospheric areas of color balanced by linear brushstrokes and opaque blocks of color- and employ them here. Then somehow that persimmon orange happened. Ack! So I let it dry and mixed up a semi-opaque white with a tiny hint of cobalt purple and lots of medium for a sloppy, wet, slightly-transparent wash over the dreaded orange.

Next problem: the anatomy of the horse is like, totally messed up. Blue Horse happened so effortlessly, and the slightly naive or crude anatomy is appealing to me in the overall simplicity of the painting. It FEELS like a dead horse. The crudeness works in that painting. This new horse painting is supposed to portray a very LIVING horse, and I'm realizing that I can't fudge the anatomy out of a desire for unfussy, unrendered form. I need to do some sketches and figure out where those hind legs are, the angle of the hock, etc. I started to figure out the head, as you can see in the most recent photo (above). So I've resolved to get those architectural lines right, then mix up some washes again and build the paint up over it, like cheesecloth draped over a wire sculpture. I want the "bones" to show, so to speak. (By clicking on the images you can make them bigger.)


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Your horses remind me of Jack Yeat's


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