Kimry Jelen is an Oregon-based artist/horse trainer who recently received the opportunity of a lifetime: to showcase her work at the 2014 WEG. But she needs your help.
“After it hit me that my art was going to France, I started checking into costs,” Jelen says. “Shipping is expensive, but the majority of the costs are import taxes and fees. It is unbelievable. I kept running into more costs and stories about how artists have had a hard time getting artwork back out without paying extra fees, etc.”
She talked to a professional art shipping company, only to discover even more expenses. Then she had an idea: start a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is a crowd-sourced funding platform that allows people to share their creative ideas and if people like what they see, they “back” a project. In Kimry’s case, backers receive special gifts–cards, calendars, prints and more, to be shipped out in time for the holidays–in accordance with the amount of money they contribute.
“I figured, if I raised the money, I was supposed to go; if not, I wasn’t,” she explained.
Jelen did the math and set a goal: $23,756, to be raised by November 30. Over the past three weeks support has poured in, eventually surpassing her original target. She’s using the surplus funds to help with framing, a $5,000 expense she hadn’t factored in.
Jelen took the time to answer a few of our questions about her art, her horses and building a bridge between her two passions.
How long have you been painting horses, and why did you to start?
I have been drawing horses for as long as I can remember. At age five my grandmother let me use her paints. I started to smash the brush into the paint to get it on my brush–she shrieked, grabbed the brush away, took a breath, looked me in the eye and gently showed me how to run the bristles of the brush gently across the palette, explaining how the color was absorbed into the brush. That was the start of my love affair with painting. In first grade, I was constantly creating my own perfect garden with unicorns and all sorts of other critters getting along peacefully on paper. As a designer, I would paint my ideas for the new season’s color palette. About 15 years ago, I started taking some intensive weekend painting and sketching workshops to learn more about the classics and become a better artist. The figure drawing classes were the start of my obsession with painting horses–I was born with horse on the brain–and soon the figures lying on their sides, shoulder, waist and hips became the top line of a horse. I figured I’d better go home and paint some horses! It seemed so natural, just flowed right out of me. That week I decided to try to get more serious and put some art shows together–people responded positively and I gained more courage.
You don’t just interact with horses on canvas–you’re a horse trainer as well as an artist. Tell us about your life as an equestrian.
Growing up, I didn’t have a horse of my own for the longest time. If there was one nearby, I was over talking to it and feeding it grass. I would go to the local barn after school and muck stalls, clean tack, etc. for one lesson a week. I proved to my family that I could take care of a horse. I got the go-ahead to go horse shopping on my 16th birthday, but we could only afford a $500 horse. This horse we got, Snookie, happened to be tough as nails (an appaloosa-thoroughbred-paint cross), extremely smart and very athletic. I learned after we got him home and our check cleared that apparently I was the only one he didn’t buck off when people tried him out. He never did buck me off; however, when he spooked, he would jump 16 feet sideways easy (I measured it one day) and he could run 33 miles an hour (I raced him next to my brother riding a motorcycle out in a harvested wheat field). Needless to say, I learned how to fall off a horse, but I also learned what a horse was capable of. He and I became best friends.
The sad day came when I had to sell him to go to college. My dad didn’t know you could have a career in art or horses, those were just hobbies–how was I going to make a living? I didn’t even know there was an option to take him with me… that still breaks my heart. I did the closest thing I could find to art and went into the fashion industry. Twelve years later, I realized I wasn’t happy without horses. I quit, moved to Montana and became a cowgirl. I started painting for fun and riding for a living: heaven. I have always felt a connection with horses, they motivate me, they inspire me. In my quest to learn more, I went from Montana to Connecticut to New York and back to Montana to New Mexico to Montana and now Oregon. Dressage became a passion–didn’t matter if I was sitting in a western saddle or an English saddle. It’s all about balance, clear communication (intention) and relaxation (being in the moment). Now I’m an artist full-time and I work with my rescue horse, Max–who teaches me a ton with help from my coach, Sue Sherry, Karl Mikolka’s writings and Miguel Ralao. I work with some long-time students riding, teaching and learning more.
Every horse I work with has such a personality. Once they realize you are listening, the fun begins! It just takes time to build that understanding and connection. Something horse owners don’t sometimes realize–it takes more time up front and it seems like not a lot is happening at first, but after a while, the horses transform. It’s wonderful when owners are really interested in learning about their horses and less about the ribbons or moving up a level. When they work on a partnership, that’s when the ribbons happen, naturally. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Just takes a “few” years, a lot of consistency, effort and luck that nothing happens to your horse in the meantime.
Your work is also clearly informed by a sense of place. What landscapes have inspired your work?
Yes, you are so right about that. The texture comes from the way I paint, layers and layers, but also from my visit to Portugal. I went over there for a month to train with Miguel Ralao (the owner of the private barn I was training for had Miguel come two times a year) and I got to see some of the most beautiful old barns (and horses): tile work, white washed walls with blue or gold at the base, texture, history, color… I was blown away. That is where some of my color blocking and texture comes from.
I worked in Montana near Yellowstone National Park and in southwest New Mexico on ranches that were huge (we’re talking 250,000 acres). We rode in grizzly bear and elk country. The beauty took my breath away daily: mountainsides covered in wildflowers, magnificent views, high mountain lakes… we rode 40 miles a day. I had moose friends and blue birds helping me fix fence–it still fills me with awe. I live in Central Oregon ‘s High Desert now, closer to family, and I am surrounded by the stunning cascade mountains. Every time I head out my driveway, I get to see the “Three Sisters”: Faith, Hope and Charity. I breathe deep and feel gratitude. The wide open space and wild landscape is a huge part of what I try to convey in my paintings. The body of work I intend to create for the WEG will certainly be inspired by the American west and its landscape–in the form of a horse.
How did the WEG opportunity come about?
I attended the 2010 WEG in KY as a spectator. The gallery representing me in Kentucky was off site, so while people were waiting in line for the events, I would pass out my postcards inviting them to the gallery. I would leave postcards and brochures on the food court tables at lunch, then run back and pick them up so I wouldn’t get in trouble (if you weren’t a vendor or sponsor, you weren’t allowed to promote your business there). I would get to an event early and leave my brochures on the benches and then go back and pick up what was left after the event. I did this for the entire two weeks. I got about 25 people to come to my art show and sold five paintings!
When I got home, I told my French painter friend on Facebook that the next WEG was going to be in France and she should try to be ON site, not off site, in a big booth–not a small one! Well, it turns out, one of my art appreciators showed some of my postcards to a gallery owner in France. And a year later, my Facebook friend the French artist was represented by the very same gallery: La Galerie du Cheval (Gallery of the Horse). So three years later, they asked me if I would like to be on their application to the WEG 2014! Apparently, it was very tough competition, but La Galerie du Cheval was accepted for the large gallery space at the WEG on site!
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