There is a place
Where you and I meet
Heart to heart
Soul to soul
Mind to mind
Those elusive moments
Can pass by in a flash
And last an eternity”
~ Kim McElroy
Pat contacted me in 2016 about her interest in having me create a portrait of her Iberian Warmblood gelding, Stas. She said she had first seen my artwork in 2000 when she came across a collection of my note cards which she sent to many of her horse friends…but she admitted she saved the one’s portraying horse’s eyes for herself. When she decided to have Stas’ portrait done she contacted me and she couldn’t believe I lived 20 miles from her.
We agreed to meet so I could photograph Stas. He had begun to have some health issues and Pat knew that he wasn’t completely himself, but we decided to go ahead with the photo session. Over the next year Stas continued to have lameness and health difficulties that baffled the vets and farriers she consulted. Pat said that during his health challenges she would look into his eye everyday and sometimes she would only seeing a black hole and then the next day she would see a glimmer of life and hope. So she decided to have me portray a close up of his eye as the concept for the portrait.
After two photo sessions Pat chose the photo that she felt portrayed his personality and spirit. She liked the photo so much she had it enlarged to the size the portrait would be and had it framed for her wall while she waited for her spot on my waiting list, which at the time was a little over a year.
As I prepared to create Stas’s portrait. Pat said Stas had recovered wonderfully well despite all the odds and was himself once again. She asked if I would come see him again to get a sense of his true self before I started the painting. I was a little surprised at the request, since she didn’t need more photos, and I knew that I could intuitively connect with Stas’s spirit when I began to create the art, but she felt that Stas wanted to see me. So I arranged to meet her at the barn.
Stas was walking around nibbling on grass in the driveway area of the boarding stable, and when I got out of the car, I greeted her and started walking towards her and Stas. He lifted his head and began walking purposefully towards me. He came right up to me and greeted me gently and with deep intent. I stood transfixed as he greeted me, horse fashion, with a breath – his nose to my face. This was an experience I’d only ever had with my own horses. I looked at Pat with tears in my eyes and she smiled, saying “I knew he wanted to talk with you.” Now I feel like you are ready to begin his portrait.
I realized I am so used to painting portraits of horses that are either far away geographically, or on the other side spiritually, so I had gotten used to not even meeting many of the horses I painted. Or even if I did meet them it was usually only once when I took their pictures. This experience taught me that even though I am intuitive in my creative expressions, it is entirely different to experience the inspiration I feel in the presence of the horse.
The Reference Photo…
The photo Pat had chosen as her favorite was unfortunately a bit overexposed and blurry. This presented a unique challenge in that I needed to create more than what I could see… more depth, more detail, and more expression which mostly is seen in the creases and folds of the brow and shape of the eye. This was in addition to the challenges of painting the eye itself; the elusive aspects of translucent depth, light, and reflection. All of these aspects revealed themselves as I went along, with the photo as a loose guide for reference, instead of the super realistic detail I’ve become used to with digital photography. Also the process of creating the eye is not only a process of me as the artist or viewer looking into the eye. But also interpreting how I would perceive myself as Stas looking out…
The Magic Process of Choosing a Title…
When I was finishing the portrait, I was listening to Pandora radio and a beautiful song came on the random selection. It was the theme song from the film American Beauty. I hadn’t seen the film but that particular piece of music felt very fitting to the painting. I looked at the name of the song and I thought it was called “Somewhere Within”… and I wrote Pat to tell her I thought it would make a beautiful title for Stas’s eye portrait. Even though she hadn’t seen the portrait yet – she knew the feeling from the photo I was painting it from. (Interestingly later I couldn’t find that title in any relation to the movie, the song, or any song I was playing or even any song by that name online.)
Pat responded and said, “I have trusted you from the day we met…it is a beautiful title….because when he was so sick, Leta and my farrier kept telling me to trust he would make it…and I did and his eye kept telling me that he would…”
Once Pat framed the portrait and had it hanging in her home, she wrote to say, “The portrait is alive! I can connect with Stas every time I look at it….I use it as a gauge to see where he is each day. I really can feel his presence with me… it is your extraordinary gift to capture the heart and soul of your subject….not just a portrait, but I think Stas became part of you…and I thank you for looking over/into him and helping give him the strength – from within – to come back and get well.”
Each and every horse I paint becomes my companion while I paint them. I am imbuing all I can conjure up visually and emotionally into their work of art. As I look into Stas’s portrait “Somewhere Within”, I see the eye of a special horse that I only met for a few hours in person, but whom I’ll never forget.