Everyday for the last few weeks I go to the studio and draw a horse.
In the drawings the horse always faces left. The head is down and mostly they stand still. I’ve always liked horses but that doesn’t explain what is going on. You see I’m interested in these drawings. I’m taken by them and they are teaching me.
I spend a long time just trying to draw the horse – to find it. Then I try to get it to sit in the drawing, to catch the surface. I work at this a long time, making and unmaking the horse.
It appears impossible. I don’t know how to do this. My frustration helps me get into the physical nature of the stuff. I scratch into the surface with pencils, nails and anything at hand. I thump the oil stick into the paper, smooshing it around. I let it go and get the materials working ahead of my mind. This energizes the drawing. The marks start to have some conviction. Things are happening. Then at some moment in this process something will cohere. It will come back at me off the surface, holding energy, pulling paint, mark, image, together. It is like magic. It has the feeling of a gift. It is as though a living thing has deposited itself into the drawing. When I say that it is alive I mean it is fully convincing, it has an organic unity. It has structure like a plant has structure and it holds the energy of its making. I think this is the reason I keep going back to it. I’m hungry for this magic where things come alive out of the movement of the stuff, out of a process that stands me on the edge of my knowing.
I did know some horses. They populated my childhood. When I draw I’m trying to draw a particular horse. It is an effort to reestablish contact. It is nostalgic, sentimental personal, and reverential. It comes out of gratitude and longing. I learned from animals especially these horses. The time I spent with them was unencumbered and spacious. It took place outside. The learning was in how the horse connected me to that outside world. Whether it was the horse’s nervous response to a sound or their alertness to changes in the wind, the horse’s body relayed information. The animal’s finally tuned responses to all the energy and change in the environment came fast and clear. When the river was swollen and menacing and the sky moved fast, she would be full of flight. Her eye was wild. She was skittish. All the changes and complexity of the seasons in that valley appeared directly wired to the horse’s psyche. Her survival had programmed her to be well informed, up to the minute, responsive, ready to go. Her readings had to be clear and there could be no separation between thought and action, message and response. For me the animals were a conduit of secret information. They gave me a special read on the natural world that was passed to me through body movement and stance. I was taught attentiveness. How I was taught made me a painter and what I was taught showed me my content.