Melissa Hornung is many things, including a painter, fox hunter, polo player and horse rider. This week’s cover reflects Hornung’s love of the East End, with its lush and starry night—and, with the August 2 Dan’s 60 Summers Gala only a week away, a Dan’s Papers twist.
What was the inspiration for this painting?
It’s a 60-year celebration for Dan’s Papers and I was given the honor of an opportunity to create a memorable cover by the creative director, Gen Horsburgh. The idea was to depict a somewhat iconic image that depicts the Hamptons vibe. I chose a fun party scene at Gurney’s in Montauk with, of course, Dan very present.
How did you first get into painting?
I was a sketcher from a very young age like most kids. But my sketches began to resemble photos, so I decided to make art my major in college. It wasn’t until I met my mentor that my talent was set a blaze. She was the daughter of Joe Simon. Joe was one of the main creators of [several] Marvel characters including Spider Man and Captain America. She lit up my career by teaching me the most important element of painting—color theory. Not just the color wheel, but how to effectively mix color to resemble nature. That is what really defines you as an artist. Your ability to see, understand and translate color.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I find inspiration in everything that I see. I live on a horse farm in Kentucky. We have all kinds of animals—domestic as well as wild. There is so much beauty in nature, whether it’s a fiery sunset disappearing behind the horses and making them a silhouette, a humming bird passing by or the crowded hustle at the farmers market in Lexington, complete with live bluegrass music bands, the Amish farmers and the abundant array of colorful fruits and vegetables laid out for our display. There is beauty in all things if you look for it.
How would you describe your art style?
I’m a realist and I identify most with Impressionism. I love the contrast of colors in a Michelangelo and the looseness and light in a Monet. I did a studied of Degas’s ballet dancers and I’ve admired the work of Rembrandt and the technic of Chiaroscuro, the fine contrast of light to dark, seen in many early European paintings. I would say that my style is very much a blend of the artists that I have admired and I have made it my own.
Tell us about your love of horses.
Horses have become my life. My mother rode and she exposed us to horses and riding at a very young age. We went to polo games and jumping events, even rodeos. You never forget, brushing them for the first time, touching them and smelling their mane in your hands as you stroke their neck. My first ride was in Palm Springs, California at 9 years old. It was one of those places that basically puts you in a saddle on a horse and tells you not to run back to the barn at the end.
We rode off into the Topanga Canyon at the base of a mountain, with nothing but sand under our feet, tumble weeds, cactus and a stream of water that came down from the mountain that we gallows through. I had never felt so free. We ran back to the barn too, it was all I could do to hold on for my dear life, yet even that was a thrill. After that experience, I knew I would one day have my own horse. I have 9 now and two donkeys. I’ve been a hunter jumper, a fox hunter and a polo player. We owed a polo club in Wellington, FL and I taught people how to ride and play. When I’m not riding my horses that are right here in my own backyard, I enjoy just watching them graze with their tails swishing in the wind.
What are some of your favorite places in the Hamptons?
Wow, where do I begin and where do I stop? It’s really hard to describe the Hamptons in a few words and the places that make this second home so special to come back to. Sunset Beach and the boat ride to get there has to be a favorite. I never make a trip there without stopping into Bobby Van’s and Pierre’s in Bridgehampton, Sant Ambroeus in Southampton, The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton and I always try and it’s always a treat to make it to the Surf Lodge and Gurney’s in Montauk. I love it all, really. It’s really such a very special place and a place I am proud and grateful to be a part of it.