Dark Horse
Copy_right F. Scott Hess

Dark Horse is pretty straight forward, though the possible readings are many. I was aware of a few background stories, like Lady Godiva, but really I just wanted to paint a horse, and get a great sense of movement. I think I succeeded there. The extremes of black and white, a nude in the cold and crashing through forests, human and animal, etc., are all part of it. At first you think she is being chased, but she has a little smile on her lips. She seemed Irish, or Nordic to me. Elfin, maybe. It seems a little kitschy, but works pretty well despite that. The horse pose is from Muybridge’s famous galloping horse series, with some racehorse anatomy stolen from other sources. The gal is invented, which I don’t usually do this way.

June 25, 2011
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A very nice painting and nice aesthetics. Certainly, the inspiration and the composition is very focused on the horse and its movement.

Grazie, Marco!


non c’è di ché. Vedo che metti un grande impegno nella costruzione del tuo lavro. Io sono più istintivo. Cerco di esprimere l’emozione del momento.


You executed the girl exquisitely and its hard to tell the difference between her and a real model of yours. This painting has power.


She’s not bad for a collection of odd body parts!


Is this like a dream sequence image? It doesn’t seem cold enough for all that snow as there is no visible chilly breath, so I was just wondering if that is part of the depth of the picture? I love the crazy trees…you must have been seeing them in your sleep. The shadow on the kicked up snow is very complex and done well. You have such great control over the elements. I would probably mess it up with a can of white spray paint to add some snow mist and breath but that’s how I like to goof things up and get all perfectamundo.


As I mentioned below, the horse’s nostrils indicate it is breathing in! I did consider breath, but felt I was on the edge of kitsch already. For some reason I thought that would push it over. The snow has no pure white at all, not even close. All areas are mixtures of color shades…


Oh wow, this almost knocked me out of my chair. Bravo Scott, I’d love to see this in person.


My first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in 10 years, In Transit, opens at Koplin Del Rio Gallery on October 29th! Come on out.


I’m planning a trip to LA. I may be there at that time! I would love to see you and your show. This painting is one of my favorites! I feel like I’ve entered the dream this girl is in. You’ve really captured the power of the horse, and the coldness of the snow, and the lightness of a dream.


This as, as ususal, incredibly gorgeous…in particular the horse. The horse in itself has the extreme beauty of muscular form in motion, but also has extreme grace. The form is quite sculptural and could exist on its own. Normally, I hate paintings or any art about horses but you have rendered pure beauty in a totally unusual way to this beast. The girl is fine, though I like her less and see a bit of unreality about her face but I do love her skin juxtoposition with the horse and the birch trees are also awesome in all ways, especially in somewhat giving the idea of danger withholding complete wild abandon. Love this painting for it’s perceived simplicity but it’s real depth. You have a gift from God and I’m not really a believer………


Thank you, Leslie. The horse was a challenge. I’d painted a couple of smaller horses for another project, and wanted to do a larger one. When I paint a human figure I have a good sense of when anatomy is right or wrong, and that informs my painting. Here, that was gone. I don’t really know what muscles will flex in what movement, or even the form of many of the muscles. I had anatomy diagrams, and lots of photo reference, but it was a challenge to put it all together and make a believable horse.


I particularly love the skin tones and how those same warms/cools are carried throughout the trees, snow etc. In many of your paintings you really push color/chroma and I like that this one feels like you held back on that – though every bit as deliberate.


Yeah, I did hold back. I love using bright colors, and usually see them in a composition before I begin painting. Here I envisioned it as very minimal, and so restrained my usual exuberance.


Well it worked :)


you forgot the cold breath vapor


If you look at the horse’s nostrils, it is breathing in!


lol well done


Masterful!! and the birch trees!! I have the experience of seeing this in 3-D this morning. And I don’t think it is something I ate (or drank) last night. I want to see this in its original size.


And I wrote this before reading Henry’s comments below. But while I looked at it I thought of the novel THE WHITE HOTEL, a haunting story of the holocaust, a woman’s dreams and for me a very visual image of a birch forest in snow…


My wife kept talking about the 3D effect as I was painting it. As an painter you are always slipping behind the picture plane, lost in that environment, so it wasn’t so novel to me. It was a very limited palette, with some turquoise thrown in, that probably helped.


From a painter’s point of view, the snow is very convincing, very well done. I say from a painter’s point of view because we know how easy it is to get it wrong. The whole work could be kitchy, as you point out, but you work with such thoroughness and consideration that it rises above this.


Yeah, the snow was fun. Light shades of pinks and turquoise. I don’t know how much of the actual color comes across. Digital photography does something weird. All detail is caught, but a great flattening occurs. This didn’t used to happen with slides.


Scott, I am intrigued by the birch forest. For Russians (in the snow yet), exemplified by the 19th Century Painter, Repin, after whom the academy in St. Petersburg was named the “Repina,” the birch is always the icon for “Mother Russia.” So every damn birch forest had a nationalistic iconic subtext for Russians viewing those paintings. Of course, the long shadows and warm glowing light also suggest the short days of northern climes. The sexual implications of the horse have, of course, been well covered by Freud.


Geez, so that’s why my wife loves this painting so much!
I grew up in Wisconsin, so snow memories are also connected to my childhood. I was thinking nordic as I worked on this. I didn’t know of the Russian meaning of birch forests, but I get at great kick out of Repin’s paintings.


Another brilliant painting, Scott. So much palpable energy! Can’t wait for your show!


I gave a lecture on movement in painting to my MFA class on Narrative painting. In doing the research I realized I already knew most of the tricks, and had utilized them in various works over the years.