Artist Sophy Brown’s Obsession With Horses Fits Right In At The National Western Stock Show

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Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Artist Sophy Brown, of Longmont, stands in the gallery of the Coors Western Art Exhibit at Denver’s National Western Complex on Jan. 13, 2020.

Sophy Brown grew up riding horses in England. But she didn’t start painting them until about 20 years ago after moving to Colorado.

“As soon as I did put those two passions together, I haven't really painted a lot of other things,” she said.

Brown is the featured artist at this year’s Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale at the National Western Stock Show. And she’s already sold much of her art that’s on display.

Brown’s first horse painting came from a commission. She was asked to paint a mural at a dressage arena. About halfway through the project, she started painting and drawing horses back at her Longmont studio too.

Before this, Brown focused on abstract painting. But after turning her attention to horses, she became fascinated by the animals’ physical manifestations of their emotions.

“They wear what's going on inside of them on the outside of them,” Brown said. “They respond to their environment instantaneously and physically, and I just recognize so many different emotions and feelings in their physical attitude.”

She recalled an encounter with a racehorse one winter. Brown said the animal was “sticky with sweat and his towel was clamped between his legs and his haunches were bunched and his ears were on swivels. It seems such a direct expression of an emotion. I find that very intriguing.”

And it’s that kind of appearance and intrigue that Brown works to convey on canvas. In fact, all of her hoofed subjects are actual horses she’s seen, like in the wild or at rodeos. She’s built a massive catalog of photographs to use as inspiration for her work.

Brown even calls her works self-portraits. That’s because of her deep personal connection to horses, she said.

For example, take the painting “Maelstrom,” which has been selected for the National Western Stock Show’s permanent art collection. It’s approximately eight feet tall. It depicts a rearing horse, its eyes wide with shock or maybe even fear. The animal’s twisted neck obscures its rider, who grips the reins tightly. The lower half of the horse dissolves into a mess of orange, purple, red and brown.

“It's a big confusion of a painting with a lot of layers,” Brown said.

As you step closer to the painting, you see those layers with splashes and drips of paint. Visible dents in the artwork are the result of Brown throwing objects at the painting. She calls these “incidental marks” and said they’re a physical exhibition of her feelings at the time.

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Featured artist Sophy Brown points out details in her painting “Maelstrom,” which is now part of the National Western’s permanent art collection.

“I painted that very much when I felt I was in a situation of turmoil and confusion and when I needed to do something physical with that,” she said.

Brown said she was dealing with trauma and loss, but she declined to elaborate.

That kind of raw emotion carries over into all of her equine-inspired artwork, like her illustrations of mules pulling carts or carrying loads on their backs.

“I think everybody can feel burdened, feel like the load is too much,” Brown said. “The great thing about art of any kind is that it's a thing between the viewer and the piece of art, not necessarily the viewer and the artist.”

Brown still rides horseback when she can. Sometimes it helps her when she’s feeling creatively blocked. And sometimes it’s just nice to be able to revisit one of her first passions in life.

“There’s absolutely nothing like the company of horses,” Brown said.

The Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale runs through Jan. 26, 2020 during the National Western Stock Show.