This week’s cover features the official 2022 Hampton Classic Horse Show poster by Cara Van Leuven. Here, she discusses her affinity for long-legged horses, the moment she received confirmation that her art would become part of Hampton Classic’s history and more.
What inspired the creation of “Dream Gait” and how were the horse’s pose and background’s colors chosen?
“Dream Gait” was inspired last year at the Hampton Classic by the horses themselves. Because I bring my dogs and husband (he’s not banned from the Boutique Garden — it’s only fair to point that out), my booth sits along Stable Row. There’s no location I would rather be.
I had so much eye candy paraded in front of me last year that there was no way I couldn’t paint those horses. They were groomed, trained and bred to the hilt. Many of those horses knew it too, and would showcase their good fortune while walking down the shed rows. The big movements of some of the hunters really inspired this painting — and OMG, that toe flick.
The intrinsic movement and the pride those horses carry is what inspired the artwork — bold movements, getting the job done, the inflated egos — I was drooling and felt compelled to capture that essence in a painting.
I wish I could provide a more eloquent answer to the colors chosen, but my use of color is pretty organic. I’ve never had a class on color theory; the colors I use are simply appealing to me, and I choose them (top and base coat) from the way they either complement or contrast one another. I’m fortunate that many collectors find the choices pleasing as well.
What does your creation process typically look like?
It all starts with observing horses. I can spend hours upon hours staring at the way they move, communicate, nap, bicker. Sometimes I climb on their back and stare at clouds in the sky looking for shapes within the white fluff.
After daydreaming, I’ll hit the studio. Each painting, from start to finish, is a minimum of 30 days. I prime all my canvases and boards myself. Once that glue coat is dry, I then add a base coat. In a few days after drying, I’ll either add a top coat or a horse. My technique varies per painting.
I revisit the painting quite often, adding more layers and touches of interest throughout the course that the painting is on the easel.
Why is “Dream Gait” an ideal choice for a Hampton Classic poster, and what inspired you to submit it?
Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to enter the poster competition. The first year I wasn’t selected, but I was excited to enter again for 2022. When I received the email congratulating me, I was closing a gate on a farm in Micanopy, just outside Ocala (FL), and it was impossible to comprehend what the message was.
I stood there at the gate while my husband was waiting in the truck for me. I had to read the email three times. Finally, I closed that gate, got in the truck white as a sheet and handed him my phone. I said, “Does this really mean what I think it does?”
It’s truly a gift to have been chosen because it was inspired, on location, at the Hampton Classic. I recognize my work is a bit abstract, but I’m delighted the committee embraced a different point of view.
Per your artist bio, when did you begin to associate long legs with a horse’s fragility and beauty, and why do you think long-legged horses have become such a strong muse for your art?
This is a bit of a sad story, but it has evolved into something that has defined my style and one all horse people can relate to.
The first horse I ever backed was this easy-going Westfalian mare. I worked with her every day for months and months. By the time I got on her back for the first time, our bond was so strong, the whole incident was a non-event.
However, as time went on, I could tell something was just not right with her. I spent at least a year trying to uncover what it was and a final diagnosis uncovered EPM, acute navicular changes and a bone deformity in her front left. I euthanized her at the age of five. My heart still aches over that loss.
When all this was going on, horses seemed so fragile. My vet bills were insane, as you can imagine. That’s when the legs on my paintings got longer and longer. My work is incredibly autobiographical, and I was inadvertently telling the story of me losing touch helping this mare.
Unfortunately, within this sport with these animals, the fragility will never disappear. We as horsemen spend endless hours and lose so much sleep thinking about how to do best by them. Horses are so generous; I think most of us understand that and have made a silent pledge to care for their delicacy the best we can.
Not counting this stunning poster, what artistic accomplishment or achievement are you most proud of?
What a great question. Even though it was 2000, I am still really proud of being a recipient for the Alexia for World Peace and Cultural Understanding. That award in photojournalism allowed me to study with Syracuse University in London. It opened my eyes to the power of art to make a change and invoke feelings and understanding.
I’ve been featured and published in magazines like Untacked and (soon) Sidelines.
However, what tops the list is redefining my life so much later in life. I didn’t become a full-time artist until I was 40. The people who have supported me and encouraged me on this endeavor are my lifeline. My entire life, I have relied on the kindness of strangers and being able to lean on friends, and none of this would be possible without them.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2022 Hampton Classic?
My favorite part is being near the schooling ring. It’s fascinating to watch the different approaches to training. There’s so much to learn.
I leave Mexico City tomorrow (at the time of writing) after spending five weeks as an artist in residency at El Sur. I was commenting that going to the Hampton Classic is much like a foreign country in and of itself. It’s a diverse horse show with many cultures and countries congregating in one area.
The Hamptons is a magical place. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to experience this part of the country. The swans in the waters, the impeccable landscaping, the preserved nature is really special.
Would you like to share any closing thoughts or additional information?
1. I am a horse lover first and foremost, artist second.
2. Walking takes too long so I sprint almost everywhere.
3. My background is in photography, and I won my first contest with a photo of my horse’s back shoe catching the sun’s rays.
4. Border collies and other neurotic breeds are my favorite because I feel like we have a lot in common.
5. I own and ride a motorcycle — a Harley Forty-Eight Sportster.
6. Every discipline in the horse world fascinates me. There is so much knowledge and so much to learn from great horsemen.
7. Cheese and cookies are my favorite food.
8. I share equal love for the countryside and the city.
9. People’s stories and lives fascinate me, but I’m an introvert and need a lot of solo time and space.
10. My favorite art form is dance.
Visit caravl.com to see more of Cara Van Leuven’s art.