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Back to the Future

We are always seeking to capture the elusive element of time. We experience an important moment, and want to capture it – so we take a photograph to freeze that moment in order to relive it, time and time again. Yet by the very act of trying to capture it, we make it more elusive. For the moment itself will never exist again. We can but view a reflection of it, in order to trigger our minds to recreate the memory of what the camera cannot show. A video image, with its sounds and movements, comes closer to our direct experience, but it cannot record our inner thoughts or the emotions of others.

We could write about the moment in a journal. Yet, years later we would read the words and struggle to come up with the images in our mind.

As an artist, one of my challenges and joys is to transcend this limitation of time. How do I convey timelessness? I seek to portray the horse in a way that captures the impression of the past, and the potential of the future.

Shadow Dancer, by Kim McElroy

In “Shadow Dancer”, a client once observed that the horse seemed about to take the next step. Therefore he was never really still, but in a perpetual state of potential movement. The way in which I portray horses seems to mysteriously convey their presence in such a lifelike way that the work itself seems to take on a life of its own; changing and reflecting the viewer’s own perceptions each time they view it.

If I portray a horse in a race, I would rather depict the horse running the race rather than at the finish line. Though that winning moment was charged with emotion – it does not capture the totality of the story of the horse; it limits the viewer to perceiving of that moment as the most important experience, when in reality it was everything that led up to that moment and afterwards that defined the moment.

The finish line essentially stops the moment for the viewer, but depicting the horse still in motion helps the viewer to imagine the entire race. If the viewer had witnessed the race this would help trigger the memory of the entire experience. If the viewer hadn’t watched the race, this would lead them to imagine the experience – rather than having the result spelled out for them on paper.

The Wishing Well, by Kim McElroy

I also explore these concepts with illusion. The horse in “The Wishing Well” is looking at his reflection in the water trough. In the reflection he appears in racing silks. Though I have my own interpretation of what I intended to portray – the viewer’s own subconscious mind will determine what they see. Is it a young horse looking at his future, an old horse looking at his past, or a horse wishing he could achieve greatness? One viewer wept when she saw this painting because it reminded her of her own horse, an ex-racehorse and now her beloved companion. Yet this horse is any horse, any time. His reflection represents whatever the viewer decides to interpret.

“Great Expectations” portrays two yearlings running in a pasture, with their glory as racehorses shining beyond. The horses in this painting are between time. They are not merely yearlings dreaming of the future, they can also represent the viewer’s own dreams of the future of their horses, their farm, or experiences in their own lives not related to horses. One could even interpret that the racehorses in their glory are longing for their carefree days of youth.

“Legacy” is a portrait of three thoroughbred fillies, depicted against the Saratoga backstretch. The horses reside in different parts of the country. They may never race in Saratoga, and they may never even meet, but the owners wanted to combine their love of Saratoga with their joy in owning these three beautiful and talented fillies. In this way, the imaginary presence of the horses together in this painting portrays the timeless way in which they are truly connected – in the hearts of their owners.

The horses I paint are not merely colored pastels of beautiful animals captured on paper, but art conveying horses as complex beings with thoughts and emotions, and paintings defining the meaningful presence of the horses in our lives. The horses I depict are timeless, their images are an interweaving of what is, what was, and what may be.

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