God, I hate reporters and their stupid horse puns…
Mr. Ed had a pretty good gig in the olden days — some say a mouthful of peanut butter made the horse a star. But even in his heyday, the famous talking horse had nothing on a trio of equine artists now making their marks on the art world.
Using their mouths to wield oversized brushes, the horses make broad, looping and sometimes erratic strokes on oversized canvases to create colorful abstract paintings.
Romeo and Juliet, a pair of Paso Finos, and DaVinci, a mixed-breed pinto, were unknowns just a few years ago, but now their art is getting noticed.
Beginning April 13, their work will be on display at the Museum of Florida Art in DeLand as part of an exhibit of paintings of horses. And on April 14, Romeo and Juliet will be showing off their skills at the Equifest festival in Lake Helen, which will feature a variety of equestrian events.
The horses’ owner, Cheryl Ward of Floral City, said that while she picks the colors and the brushes and rotates the canvases, the horses do their own painting.
“I absolutely, beyond the shadow of the doubt, know that they are doing something,” she said. “They actually will look to see where they are putting the paint on the canvas.”
She said the artists each have their own style, with Romeo using “soft, graceful strokes” and Juliet employing a more forceful technique expressed with “bold, expressive” applications.
“They have moods, too, that are reflected in their work,” she said. “Romeo had a very rough beginning, so he paints a little out of angst . . . Juliet is more loose and forceful — she just pours her heart into the canvas.”
Ward said that while the horses apply the pigment, the art they create is a collaborative effort.
“The paintings are a result of the relationship I have with the animals,” she said.
Ward said she discovered the unusual talents by accident a few years ago when she purchased Romeo for trail-riding. At the time, she said, the horse was “afraid of everything.” Holding things in his mouth seemed to lessen his fear, though, and he developed a knack for manipulating objects with his teeth and lips.
Ward, whose father was a professional artist, decided one day to see what would happen if she gave Romeo a brush. The rest is history.
“I brought out a sketch pad and a paint brush and I put it in front of him, and he ran the brush up and down,” she said. “He’s been painting ever since.”
But allowing Romeo to paint was more than just an artistic endeavor to Ward, who views it as a form of therapy for the formerly troubled horse.
“I was just desperate for a way to reach this poor horse who was so misunderstood,” she said. “Typically, very little concern is given to what the horse wants to do. I’m giving the horse the chance to be a whole horse.”
She said her philosophy is modeled on the way marine mammals are trained with positive reinforcement.
The other horses also took quickly to painting, she said, and the animals often vie to see who gets the first crack at a blank canvas.
“I’ll set up the easel, and they’ll come running to see who can paint first,” she said.
Each painting sold comes with photos showing the work in progress. Mural-size paintings include a video of the horses creating the work.
Each piece of art is stamped on the back with the artist’s signature — an inked image of the horse’s hoofprint.
While a number of people have embraced the work as art — dishing out between $75 and $500 per painting — others aren’t so sure.
“The people who are most skeptical are horse people,” Ward said, adding that she doesn’t argue with the naysayers.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings because their horses can’t paint.” Link
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