Text and Photos by Lily Forado
For P.R.E lovers, there’s nothing more beautiful than art portraying the elegant, powerful, majestic, and noble P.R.E horse. Elise Genest, a brilliant and talented equestrian artist, passionately captures in her creations the spirit, strength, and soul of the P.R.E horse. Elise grew up with horses, but when she first met a P.R.E horse, she fell in love with them. For her, the P.R.E represents the dichotomy: fire and love.
USPRE had the opportunity to get to know the equestrian artist Elise Genest and find more about her beginnings in painting, her artistic influences, her artwork, and above all her professional opinion about the Iberian horse.
What first attracted you to the horse as an artistic subject? Do you have an equestrian background?
I grew up in the country; my father bought a pony and a mare so we could trail ride together. Within a few years, we went from two equines we kept in the backyard, to a major breeding farm of warmblood horses, with up to 60 horses. The passion really kicked in when I was 10 years old; I was so passionate about horses that I would draw them all day in school. It’s my passion for horses that pushed me in arts, the muse was the reason of the creation!
Do you have any fond memories of your first contact with a Spanish horse?
I collected books and magazines, and I remember being drawn to the majestic beauty of the baroque type. I started drawing them; harmonious horses, beautiful neck, dramatic mane, expressive movement. They were the epitome of beauty to me. I invented my own Spanish horses in my paintings. Then eventually, I would try to work with owner to have their permission to paint their horses. With the social media, things were easier than ever. One of them liked what I created, and asked to purchase the painting. He also ordered 2 more, and invited me to his Yeguada. Just like that, I was in Mexico, spending days at the magnificent Hacienda Santa Lucia, property of the Jimenez family. I was amazed by the beauty and presence of the horses he would present me. I took thousands of photos, asked as many questions… I had fallen in love even more with these gentle, magnificent horses. The whole experience made it even more precious.
Few months later, I was invited to a wedding in Spain. I thought, it was out of question for me to be in Spain without visiting a yeguada! I googled Yeguada PRE in Malaga, sent an email to the owner of the first place that popped: Yeguada Aimaran. Aida Huertas (also vet and judge) replied right away and invited me to her facility. There, I discovered the classical Carthusian horses, living work of art who would simply want to be loved. Be still my heart, I was forever hooked!
From the day I visited yeguadas, my inspiration sky rocketed. I would paint from the photos I’d bring back, and the paintings created would be always stronger and more powerful. Everything exploded: exhibitions in the US, commissions worldwide, SICAB poster, private exhibition for his majesty King of Bahrain (he owns 300 horses, including PREs) … I kept on traveling the world seeking for inspiration. I became friends with PRE lovers everywhere, and even if I had enough photos to paint for a hundred years, I would still thrive on the vibration and energy I would bring from these meetings.
I remember especially meeting Fuego and his owner Cardenas. Fuego is such a nice horse, the first thing he did when he saw me, was to scratch his forehead on my leg! My daughter was 4 by then, and she was allowed to scratch him and give him treats. He was under saddle 10 minutes before, full of fire, and then he became the nicest horse I had ever met. This is the dichotomy of PRE: fire and love.
What do you like most about the Spanish Horse?
What I love the most about the Spanish horse is probably their sense of spectacle and their presence. They are there to exist, to be seen and to share love. I also love the curves, their spectacular neck and deep expressive eyes.
Why Iberian Horses?
Iberian horses, for all of the above! They are the epitome of beauty, yet they are very approachable. There is something artistic about them, as if each and single one of them was a living work of art. Also, they are the horses chosen for movies, paintings, images… they make us dream of the perfect horse: strong, courageous, romantic.
How do you capture the horses’ personalities in your works?
To me, the best way to capture the horses’ personalities is to meet them in a safe environment, with their owners – or a person they love. I like to do liberty photo sessions because I want to see them free of any constraints. I like to see their eyes when they look at the person they love or see them play their own way. I also love the movement in their mane; I have noticed over time that each horse has a specific way to move the mane, which is like a choc wave on the surface of a lake. The mane creates a drawing that is unique to every horse. I also don’t want to see the horse in a perfect moment; I want to see him in his unique way of being.
Do your travels and the geography around you influence your artwork?
My travels have a major influence on my work! Meeting my subjects, taking the time to experience a culture, learn about history, make new friends through photography, to inspire paintings later… the quest is immense, and the travels are a big part of my inspiration.
Would it be the light of a location for instance. I come from Canada, and the light changes a lot during the year. We have a golden light only a few weeks a year – while California offers such a light all year long, bringing hues in my photography I cannot reach at home. I also have been influenced by the walls of certain arenas, in Portugal for instance, where we photographed horses in an arena surrounded with white walls; it inspired me to paint white backgrounds. Sometimes I will add a poem in the background, words about my trip to that specific place or a feeling I brought back. The colors of Egypt, the majestic of Bahrein, the essence of Spain, it all lives in my paintings.
Who are your main artistic influences?
My main artistic influences are… impossible to name them all! I grew up with artists, as my parents had a frame shop. We would deliver the framed paintings in art galleries, and I’d spend time with the artists coming at the store. I was interested in arts – causally – though I guess it was so deeply in me already, that it was normal to me. I was an artist, no big deal, I started selling my little abstract paintings at age 7.
My first influences were the artists who surrounded me at the frame shop. Local artists in Québec city. I would be drawn to drawings especially, which were very instinctive to me. As arts gained more place in my life, I developed a passion for masters of all periods: Sorolla, Picasso, Raphael, Da Vinci, Kahlo, Schiele… I would make sure to go to museums in every city I’d visit. I visited majors museums all over the world, I cannot remember what I saw where… but the most impressive painting to see in real life are Picasso’s La Guernica, to be seen in Madrid, and the Nympheas by Monet. Monet’s masterpieces were installed at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and measures 2 meters x 17 meters. The most immersive piece that was ever created.
My artistic influences are ever-changing. Inspiration is a wheel; it never stops, or it slowly dies… the wheel is created by tiny lines of inspiration collected here and there throughout our lives. Would it be through music, poetry, a sunset, our emotional baggage, or other artist’s work. We must collect tiny pieces of everything that touches our hearts, and create our own story with it.
Which one is your personal favorite piece?
About the paintings, I could not name a personal favorite… but I certainly have paintings that mean more to me. Usually, these are the paintings I created without knowing where I was going… the first painting I did after my first trip in Mexico, Mares of Santa Lucia, is in my dining room and I have never been able to repeat such lightness in the ink. The first painting I did of my own horse, Chevaliers, means a lot to me. The first piece I did after hurting my hand (riding accident) and being obliged to stop painting for 2 months ‘Coming Home’ was a revelation… I paint between 75 and 100 paintings a year. Maybe 2 or 3 paintings a year hold that status to me, for several reasons. I do not want to let people know about my feelings towards my paintings, because I want collectors to decide of their own feelings towards it, without being influenced. And in the end, only time will tell which ones of my paintings were my favorites.
What meant for you to have one of your masterpieces be the image for Sicab 2014?
Being invited to paint for SICAB in 2014 was a milestone in my life! It is one of the biggest honors I was offered. To arrive in Sevilla and to see my work on billboards in the city was incredible! And to be there, to represent the best horses in the world, was an incredible honor to me. I also met a lot of incredible people there – among them Clemence Faivre, who later commissioned me to paint pieces to decorate her indoor arena, and Lorenzo – whose mom invited me for vacations in her Camargue home. I feel like the world opened up to me then!
Visit Elise Genest’s website by clicking here