A Wave of Inspiration ~ Horses in the Elements Series Part 1

When I was first inspired to combine horses and the sea I had no knowledge that they were steeped
in archetype and myth. 
Like most of my artwork, the idea came through the process of inspiration
and intuitionOnly later did I realize that I had tapped into a very ancient concept.

A Wave of Inspiration ~ Part 1

Since ancient days sailors and philosophers, artists and writers have compared the qualities of horses
with the power of the sea.
In their souls, horses seem as wild and unpredictable as a force of nature. 
Like the sea, the horse draws us, challenges us, and inspires us with its beauty and power.

** Remember the hidden horses in these paintings were intended to be seen in their original sizes of
20″ x 30″.  So your computer screen may not be able to reproduce the detail needed to see the subtleties
of these works of art.  DIgital Prints are available of all these paintings.

In 1989 while watching a video of one of my equine models, an Arabian stallion named Shahzareign, I was struck by a split second image where the stallion arched his neck and launched forward in his gallop as if to race some unseen challenger.  I decided to depict him racing the waves.  As I started to research images of shores and beaches for the right angle to pant the water, I started reading excerpts from writers about their love of the sea.  The poem “Sea Fever” by John Masefield inspired the title for the artwork I created.

“Running Tide” 1989 37 x 52

“Running Tide”

“I must down to the sea again for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”
~ John Masefield

The First Series ~ Horses in the Elements

"Silent Sentinels" ~ Three horses blow like wind over the hills

“Silent Sentinels” ~ Three horses blow like wind over the hills

“Silent Sentinels” 
Three horses blow like wind over the hills

“Three cloud horses watch and wait
Silent sentinels that send the smell of rain on the wind.”
~ Kim McElroy

The idea to paint horses in combination with waves was actually through a painting I created that was inspired by a cloud formation I had photographed in Wyoming.  I had been struck by this cloud, and when I had the film developed I kept looking at them.  The photo wasn’t necessarily remarkable, but I was drawn to it in a way I couldn’t explain.  Then after a few moments, I saw a horse head in the cloud, then another, and another.

I unveiled this new concept at the 1989 National Arabian Horse show.  The piece attracted a lot of attention.  People would walk by my booth of equine art and see this one, incongruous cloud painting.  They would invariably pause in their steps, somehow sensing there was more to the piece than just clouds.  When they found the horses their enthusiasm was contagious.  I knew I was on to something.

While I was at the show, I visited a bookstore and offhandedly started browsing through a book on waves.  A few pages later I opened to a photograph that gave me goosebumps, for in the patterns of the rushing waves I could see running horses.  I suddenly realized that clouds were just the beginning of a series I decided to call “Horses in the Elements.”

Night RunWM

“Night Run” ~ Nine horses riding the crest, two appearing in the mist

“Night Run”
Nine horses running in the crest, two appearing in the mist

“In the pale light of the stars
it looked as if legions of white horses rose from the ocean,
endlessly and rhythmically to attack the shore
with thundering hooves.
Forever they come in wild haste,
and the wind followed them like their own breath,
panting and shaking their white manes.”
~ Carl Raswan

A Wave of Responses

“Night Run” was released in 1990 and was the sixth print release in my career.  Previous releases had been successful but I was unprepared for the wave of responses from my fans and from new collectors. Encouraged by the response from trade shows, I advertised the art in full page ads in magazines all over the country from horse magazines to Equine Images and Alaska Airlines magazine, and the edition of 500 signed and numbered lithographic prints sold out in six months; to this day still a record in my career.

Later releases did equally well, and after a few years, collectors began buying secondary market prints of the earlier releases in the series.  “Night Run” appreciated at one point to where a few collectors sold their prints to other collectors for $3,000.00!  This appreciation was unheard of for a self published artist who didn’t have a network of galleries and collectors buying art for investment.  But what was most important to me, was that people loved it!

I had sold the original of “Night Run” within days of its completion, to a dedicated fan who snapped it up for a mere $1,800.00 which at the time, seemed like a tidy sum.  She still owns it to this day…

“”Eye of the Storm” 1990 22 x 28 ~ Six ride the crest as one watches

“Eye of the Storm”
Six horses ride the crest as one watches

“Now the great winds shorewards blow;
Now the salt tides seawards flow;
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.”

~ Matthew Arnold

The idea of doing a series was new to me, but I soon discovered I had an abundance of images to inspire me.  “Night Run” was the first wave in the Elements Series.  Later I painted other waves titled “Eye of the Storm”, “Daybreak”, and “The Battle” all from horse images I saw in photographs of waves.  Other elements of air, earth and fire were also a part of the series.  I searched at professional image banks so I could purchase the rights to reproduce these photographs in perfect detail.

It was important to me how the horses appeared in the composition.  There were many waves with horses in them, but the horses had to be in relationship – and to be going in the same direction as a herd of horses would.  In “Eye of the Storm” – the added mystery of layers of horses in different perspectives and sizes, culminating in a huge eye in the eye of the wave, was a joy for me to find, and to create.

In some of the paintings like Night Run the best part was that often the illusions were subtle enough that you could lose the horses again, or perhaps never find them.  One client who had purchased a print of “Night Run” three years before, while visiting my studio with his friends overheard me explaining there were Nine horses in the crest and two appearing in the mist.  “What do you mean there are two in the mist?” He asked.  When I pointed them out to him, he exclaimed, “I never saw those two!”

At first, people likened this to a popular style called “Camouflage art”, a style popularized by artist Bev Doolittle.  But rather than creating a composition to hide images, I revealed what was already there.  Like other people who have imagined shapes in cloud formations, I could see images in patterns of nature. I had done this since I was a child, from the hidden image games in Highlights magazine, to finding horse head in wood grain paneling.

At my art booths at trade shows, I enjoyed giving people hints on how many horses were hidden.  I got to relive the experience of finding the horses for the first time myself, as I I watched the horses appear to them one by one as they counted them.  And often people found them in the same sequences, so I knew which ones they would miss, and find.

4 Comments

  1. I wanted to tell you that your horse/wave works are my favorites of yours, particularly Daybreak and Night Run.

  2. I bought several of your prints in 1995 in Kentucky and would like a larger print how can I get them

  3. I love your work and appreciate your journey with horse

  4. Dear Kim,
    I truly enjoy and love your work. It speaks to me on a spiritual level. Horses are amazing spirits. Combining the two, the ocean and the horses make my heart smile. You set the intention at this moment, to purchase two of your artworks. In gratitude-Kirsten

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