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Horses of Us: An Artistic Glimpse into the Love Between Horses and Humans

Lindsey Kahn talks to painter Marcy Criner about the intersection of horses and art in her work.

From Lindsey:

The first thing that some viewers might notice about Marcy Criner‘s vivid paintings are the focus on each horse’s eye and expression. She captures each subject’s honesty, gentleness, sass, and unique features with expressive detail. The second thing that people might notice is the array of bright, powerful colors that Marcy uses. These details are easy to spot, but just scrape the surface of the stories that lie behind each painting. Horses of Us isn’t just a series of horse portraits; it’s an intimate look into the relationships between horses and their humans, and each painting tells a story.

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Marcy’s unique approach to portraiture comes to light when viewers read the text accompanying each portrait. After completing each painting, Marcy interviews the subject’s owner to learn more about their relationship with the horse. What happens then is a compelling mesh of visual and verbal art; the stories the human tells shine new light on the horse’s image, giving viewers a chance to see into the lives of these connected souls.

"Griffin Crusoe," by Marcy Criner

“Griffin Crusoe,” by Marcy Criner

HN contacted Marcy to do a little role reversal: an interview to help share her project and vision with the horse-obsessed denizens of the Internet.

HN: When and how did you come up with the idea for “Horses of Us”? 

MC: This year, I started doing portraits of my horses and found myself always telling a story when I shared them with friends. On Facebook, I asked a friend if I could paint her horse. I did a close-up of her mare’s eye. When I shared it with her, she wrote me back the most heartfelt story about this mare being there for her when she was going through a rough breakup.

I was moved by how much horses hold that sacred space for us when we most need it. That was the moment I decided that I wanted to share the stories behind the horses. I see my art as the horse’s expression and the story as the horse lover’s voice. I think the merging of the two is what creates the whole picture. The name Horses of Us came from the feeling that all horse lovers experience. That deep knowing that horses aren’t just something you do but are a part of your soul.

"Onyx?" by Marcy Criner

“Onyx?” by Marcy Criner

HN: The colors and expressions in your paintings are so vivid, and seem to capture each horse’s personality. Describe your artistic process. 

MC: I always ask the horse to guide me in what they want to show the world. I sit in silence and look at the horse’s picture to start. Then I usually get an impression of colors. I always begin with bold colors and tone it down if they aren’t working for the horse. I recently painted a Lipizzan mare that I had to start over from scratch three times! I finally tuned in and said to her, “What colors do you want?” All I could hear was the word pastels!

HN: How do you select the subjects for your paintings?

MC: So far it’s been word of mouth and me reaching out to a few people. I’m always ready to hear a great story and meet another horse! My goal is to put together a large collection (herd) and do a tour around the US.

"Roux for You," by Marcy Criner

“Roux for You,” by Marcy Criner

HN: A wonderful and unique part of the “Horses of Us” series is the connection between horse and owner, and the stories they have to tell. How have your interviews and artistic storytelling influenced your art? 

MC: The surprising part has come from creating the art then interviewing the owner. I did one portrait that seemed so different from my usual style. It had almost a halo effect and seemed slightly blurry to me. When I interviewed the horse’s owner she told me about losing her vision and then it all made sense. I’ve learned to trust my gut more and go with what ever is presenting itself in the moment.

HN: What is your favorite experience with “Horses of Us” so far? 

MC: That has to be interviewing the horse owners. It’s often hard for me to decide what to use with the horse’s portrait as there are so many interesting stories and bits of horse wisdom/advice.

HN: What are your ultimate goals with this series?

MC: For me, the goal is connection. Showing the connection we have with horses and with each other. If people can feel the expression of the horse and resonate with the owner’s words, I have made a connection.

HN: Is there anything else you’d like to share about “Horses of Us,” your art, your interests, or your life in general?

MC: My muse right now is my four year old warmblood named Flutter. I can look out my window and watch him galloping around the field. He can make me smile on any kind of day!

One thing that has really shifted in me the past few years is that I have let go of feeling guilty about spending so much time and money being involved with horses. It’s a necessity to seek out things that give us great joy! I think it’s a reason for being. Our love of the horse teaches us many life lessons. My way of showing joy is through Horses of Us.

"Victor Knows," by Marcy Criner

“Victor Knows,” by Marcy Criner

Thank you very much, Marcy! Be sure to check out her stunning portraits and their matching stories at the Horses of Us website and Facebook page. Stay tuned for more equine portraits in Marcy’s series!

Go Horses of Us. Go Riding.

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