Is that a Horse? - Elizabeth Miller

This gallery explores interpretations of the horse, stylized by various artists and yet still recognizable as a horse. Just what is it that makes a horse look like a horse? Is it long flowing tail? The elongated round body supported by four thin legs? The long flat face with large nostrils and wide set eyes? The thick powerful neck? The flickering ears? Let's see if this gallery can answer that question...

This drawing shows FOUR interconnected horses. Each horse shares a head and neck with second horse, and separately shares a hind end with a third horse. Each horse has an unnaturally long body to accommodate the puzzle structure of the drawing. The horses in the north and south positions appear to be galloping with their legs stretched out in front and behind, and the east and west horses appear to bucking with their legs and tail tucked underneath them.
This sculpture captures the rippling muscles of a horse's body and hind quarters. The jagged mane and long tail look as if they are flowing from the horse rearing up. The head in profile shows a long face with large nostrils. The lines the individual layers help represent the musculature of a real horse and gives this piece a sense of movement and life. Even though this sculpture is made from thin layers of stainless steel, when combined, they create a sense of weight and heft like a real horse.
This print of a horse, while very cartoonish, is still a great representation of a horse. The exaggerated mane and tail length and fullness, the shortened body length, and the extra thick legs don't skew far enough to detract from the standards of a long face, wide set eyes, large nostrils, and rounded musculature.
This screenprint is a different style of cartoon where the whole horse is simplified. The legs and joints are minimized, as is the tail, and the ears are missing completely. But the rounded body, arching neck, and flat face still clearly represent a horse. Even the exaggerated round eye and eyelashes don’t seem that out-of-place.
This piece is actually a dining chair, not a horse. The artist has recreated a happy memory from his childhood of “riding” his chair like a horse. The seat of the chair represents the horse’s back, the seatback is the horse’s neck, and the chair legs are the horse’s legs. The floral print was popular in Tainan (Taiwan) households when the artist was a child. Even with only straight lines and no mane or tail, this piece still conveys a convincing horse likeness, I think because of the proportions of the seat to the seat back and legs.
The subject of this painting is thought to be Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Though the painting is done in a misty indistinct style, the horse is clearly painted with a lifted head on a strong thick neck, ears pinned back and mouth open as if neighing. Even though the horse’s back cannot be seen, the body draped over the horse demonstrates where the back would be and creates a shadow on the flank of the horse.
The horse in this ink and wash drawing is really just a bunch of shapes in different shades of gray. If you saw any one shape alone, there would be nothing to indicate it belonged to a horse. Though there is no definitive line for the eye to follow, the arrangement of the shapes suggests the muscles and structural landmarks of a horse. The different shades of grey suggest depth and shadow. The most prominent feature to me is the right front shoulder (on the left side of the drawing). Then the mane and ears, the different flat muscles of the head and face, the wide-set eyes, and the chin and nostrils. Finally the legs, the knee, elbow and hock joints, the hooves, and tail complete this drawing.
This wooden rocking horse has been well used and loved. It is missing its original ears and hand holds, and the spotted paint is very worn, but the flat-faced head and arching neck can still be seen clearly, as well as the tail. The seat is placed where a real saddle would go which also helps create the reality of a horse. Even the rockers could be considered the legs, even if legs wouldn’t bend that way in real life.
This dance stick comes from the Aboriginal Nakoda people in western Canada. Its purpose is not known, but could be either commemoration of a horse that died in battle or perhaps simply a prop of a ceremonial dance. It is made from wood and horsehair and other found objects. I think the mane and tail really help to sell the horse image, especially without legs or a large body. The squared and flattened head and pointy ears help too.
This is the most stylized piece in my gallery, and yet it still looks very horsey to me. I think it is the angle of the shaft that makes me see a horse’s neck. The seatback is in the right place to represent a saddle. Knowing that this is a child’s rocking horse doesn’t hurt the illusion either. And finally, the rocking motion does pretty accurately mimic the cadence of a horse’s canter.
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