BACKSTORY: “WHITE HORSE”
Life size oil and acrylic on canvas
1981, 86” x 136”
“Why would you do a painting like that?”
This was my first large canvas. It was painted in one of the honor studios at the San Francisco Art Institute, while I was an undergraduate.
I was very angry about all the abuse I had witnessed over many years in the show horse world. I had to leave school to support myself, and for a time I painted fairly traditional portraits of horses and hated it, but I had the skills. I had sworn that, now I was resuming my studies, I would never paint a horse again, but my teachers suggested I put aside the very earnest paintings I had been doing, and since I was still talking about the horse issue, do a painting to “get it out of my system”. I really didn’t want to. Yet I’d been having dreams of giant horses walking on the rooftops of the city, and making other sudden appearances in my daily life. I liked the idea of gigantic hooves on roofs.
I’d never done any large work before. I taped six sheets of paper together and painted the “Red Hooves”, which was amazing and scary, but I envisioned the viewer about to have a giant hind hoof swinging up behind him. I was painting revenge. And it was fun.
I decided to do one serious painting about the reality, the vulnerability, and an image that had stuck in my mind from photos in a book showing a mare, ridden to an impossible take off point for a jump, getting tangled and falling, was my inspiration. I cut off her tail to make her obviously changed by humans. I wanted the image to be beautiful and shocking, ethereal and real in both size and execution. It took months to create.
I had no idea what an impact this painting would have on people and on my own life. People started coming to see how it was progressing. Lots of people, including visiting lecturers and then curators and buyers. Both exciting and incredibly invasive at a time when a student should feel free to try, fail, learn and be foolish in private, the painting created momentum that was certainly positive and promising and I wasn’t going to turn my back on such a leap into the art world. It’s a very difficult and competitive job, trying to find a way in.
By word of mouth, the painting was included in many shows from LA to New York. It won awards. I gave it to my college sponsors, who were unbelievably kind enough to have offered to help me finish my degrees, and they left it with me and lent it to shows.
There are many stories about this painting, and one of my favorite moments was in a show at Transamerica HQ, where I was standing nearby (but no one ever thought this small young woman was the creator of that: so, wonderful anonymity). One man said to another man, you know, this painting is about the death of her father. I had quite a laugh but charitably didn’t call him a an idiot.
Seriously though, this piece always provokes conversation. It gives me an opportunity to talk with people about the responsibilities we have to care for these trusting, generous and fragile animals that will do what we ask of them. The mare died after this fall.
The painting is still with me, long after my sponsors finished their lives.
Mice got into storage and chewed the canvas just under her ear.
And I’ve never stopped painting horses. I even accept commissions again, but only with my own vision. Commissions have made it possible to do my own work.