Never before in human history, have humans had so much history! That may be stating the obvious but it also may be why humans have such difficulty staying in the present. Horses remember people and events in the past but have no fear of the future; they simply live their lives with constant awareness and intuition. I have to work hard at being in the present moment—the only one I will ever have. Horses have taught me how to do that, and the way I approach and respond to each moment influences how I paint.
My life with horses began at age 3 or 4 when I saw a runaway horse, without its rider, jump into my front yard then out the other side in just a few seconds. I’ve been trying to recapture the power I witnessed ever since. Here, in my little front yard was this great, powerful beast—frightened and running loose with a storm coming. To imagine a person was somehow attached to this event, was life changing for me as I probably lived much of my life like a frightened animal with a storm coming.
Many years later, my daughter and I participated in horse trials together—a demanding sport for both horse and rider. We loved the wild, fun rides we had, feeling our horses’ power beneath us over challenging courses. Great teachers helped us perfect our connections with our horses by making us aware of the little things, like whether our bodies moved with the horse or were stiff in some areas. This made all the difference in our rides and we woke up in the dark every day to practice our endurance.
I attempt to make a direct connection to nature by making the paint thick like mud, painting outside, and getting the paint in the grass and mud. I love the evocative feeling of working in my colored mud and looking at it that way. When I hear from others that they are stimulated by the texture and the image, I think some of my experience with nature is coming through. I like to make images that are representational, like a horse or a cat or a dog—it doesn’t matter which. As the paint moves in the direction of an image, I begin to see it. The subject is probably in my subconscious and I am simply remembering it.
One rainy day there were some workers at my house and I noticed a child in their truck, drawing on the fogged up windows. His name was Devin and I invited him in to paint with me. Seven years old and from Tennessee, I asked him for his honest criticism of my painting. “Wow, that horse got the spirit in him!” As he went on to paint the most spectacular American Indians on one of my old canvases, I painted this horse, titled “Devin From Heaven.” After the boy’s delightful response, I worked a little more on it, and asked him what he thought about the painting again. This time, he said, “Well, it ain’t got the spirit no more, but it’s still good.” Sadly, I knew what he meant, so back to work I went.
Norman, is an ex-police horse from the city of Atlanta. Bossy, bold, beautiful and 31 years old, he lives next door in a big pasture. I had started a painting when a friend brought her children and stepchildren over. We rode a little, then went to the studio. As the older children worked on their own creations, I stood in front of my painting with the three-year-old, and gave him a brush loaded with purple paint. He created a bold, diagonal line with some lovely curving strokes. As Norman began to emerge on the canvas, the line traveled from his head to the upper right portion of the canvas. It’s my connection to whatever happens in the unscripted moments of life and my choices in response to them that create my painting process, and the ingredients of those moments are always different.
Humans want to be connected, and yet most of us live lonely lives. Without seeking out positive connections, we tend to find negative ones even though it’s up to us what we get. None of my art would be possible without my connections.
My horse taught me to be present and seek our best connection within each moment. I bring that to my painting, staying open to serendipity, prepared to respond to whatever happens. Then as I respond, and the painting moves forward, my subject emerges from my subconscious.
Getting to the end of a painting is never a linear equation, just like training a horse. Horses are all so different, yet how we spend time with them feels like one big circle—like the circle of life—in true connection with each other so we can experience the best life has to offer.
Susan Easton Burns, a painter living in Douglasville, Georgia, interprets what she observes closely in Nature with deliberately abstract, even awkwardly childlike strokes, to create energetic, representational imagery. Relying most on spontaneity and intuition, she acknowledges the messy nature of paint as a reminder that in Nature, order comes from chaos. You can see more of her work on her website: susaneastonburns.com and for sale on Equine Divine and DK Gallery in Marietta, GA.Pin It