Stephanie Revennaugh’s award-winning equine sculpture is a delight to both horse lovers and art collectors alike. Turner Fine Art is pleased to present her work as part of Heart of Wonder, on display through July 6th, 2018. We discussed her art, her process as an artist, and her drive to follow her heart.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Ohio, but I’ve lived a little bit of everywhere: Central and South America, I lived in Europe for 2 minutes, and all over the U.S., too.
Where do you live now?
How did you become interested in art? When was that?
I don’t feel like I had a real choice in either art or horses. It chose me. I did typical art classes in school, but I didn’t want to go to art school because I said, “All I’m interested in is horses and they’re going to make me do weird things like abstract art.” Now I can’t get enough of it, but that was my thinking then. It took me a long time to get around to where I knew that I wouldn’t be fulfilled in life if I didn’t give art a try. That was 8 or 9 years ago when I was managing a dressage barn in Evergreen, Colorado. I was very happy there, but one piece was missing. It was the art.
I always wanted to do both painting and sculpture. I started with oil painting, but I did not allow myself to do anything with the form of the horse. I wanted to be a good artist, not a mediocre horse artist. So I didn’t let myself worry about the horse until I found this Sculpting the Horse class. I just knew it was the thing; I knew it was my medium. It just came so intuitively and it felt really native to me, whereas painting was more effortful.
How would you describe the content of your work for this exhibition?
This is the current body of work I have. I wish it was more curated, but as a sculptor I don’t make a lot of work every year. I make anywhere from 2 to 5 pieces a year, depending on the size of the pieces, and I have only been sculpting for 7 years.
In this exhibition, is there a piece you’re most proud of? Why?
Oh, Mutual! Mutual is one of my later pieces and I really feel like I combined the heart of what I am trying to say with the skills I’ve developed over the last 7 years, with the surface being loose and expressive. I didn’t mess with the piece very much; I nailed it and walked away. And part of that is because I had a deadline which kind of helped.
I am really pleased with the expression that I got. I think the heart of it is the connection between the horses, but also the connection with one another in a broader sense–and it captures that very well. It’s also something you see horses do all the time, but you don’t see a lot of it in sculpture. It’s very sweet when you see them do it.
What mediums do you work with?
I work in clay, then I make a mold from the clay. I have cast in bronze, glass, and concrete, so just the casting is different.
The glass is exciting–it’s basically sculpting with light. I am playing with the lighting effects and as you play with the light, natural and direct light, it changes the way the piece looks and how it shines through the sculpture. There is a lot you can do with it. I’ve just barely begun to explore that.
What techniques do you employ to get the results you want? How has that evolved?
I don’t think I have changed my technique much, but I have pushed it further. I like using my hands and clay that’s fairly warm, so that I can get those big expressive marks. I used to be more tight, not quite as expressive as what I am doing now. It actually happened by accident because I was working in the summer in Big Timber, Montana, and the clay had gotten so much warmer than normal. I put it on one sculpture and it just looked so cool that I left it.
You also have to learn what happens as you go from clay to bronze. You’ve made all these marks, but as it goes to bronze it doesn’t look quite as dramatic as you thought it would. I work with a light tan clay and you get a lot more contrast with the shadows and the highlights because of the color. But when it gets cast into bronze you don’t see as much of that contrast and it can be a little disappointing. I learned you have to see into the future to know what it will look like in bronze.
What is your favorite tool?
My favorite tool is a serrated kitchen knife that Mark Edward Adams, another sculptor, gave to me at one of our first workshops. It’s not fancy–just a basic tool and the teeth are spaced just right. You can see it on all of my sculptures. It makes a bunch of little lines and that makes a texture that I see as a shadow because it breaks up the smooth clay.
If I am working on a bigger piece I have to scale the everything up, so I use a machete. It is smoother but does leave some jagged marks. I love the leaving the marks from the making of it; you know it was made by hand and not by a machine.
What pleases you about the process?
The best part is definitely not building the armature, I don’t enjoy that very much. But after that it really just gets fun. I am very intuitive the way I sculpt. I use general measurements and eyeball it. Even though I kind of geek out on the anatomy, I leave it loose and don’t try to make it perfect because that’s where the energy is. I get a lot of pleasure and joy in the creating. There is not a lot of stress because there is room for change and possibilities.
What is most challenging about the process?
There are parts of creating after it’s done and it’s at the foundry and you have to decide on the patina. The first time a piece goes through it’s trying to tell me what patina it wants. Some of them tell me right away. In the beginning, that process was really, really difficult. Now that I have more experience and I know what works, it’s a little easier.
How do you approach your work?
Every piece I make resonates deep within me. Sometimes it starts with an idea or a feeling I want to express, or sometimes it starts with a gesture I saw. With horses, I may have seen a certain gesture I found beautiful but I don’t always know the reason why until I am recreating it. Both ways get deeper as I create it and live with it; then they become more of a metaphor or a narrative.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Impressionistic, raw, and loose. I love the form and I want the form to feel correct, but I like to leave a lot up to the imagination with the surface. Leaving that allows the viewer to fill in the rest, which helps create that life and movement. Really the piece isn’t complete until someone sees it and brings their own story to it.
Some people like to do these powerful fighting, leaping, or running animals, but I love the quieter poses. Within them is so much power and energy, bundled and tense. One person characterized it as soulful and dynamic, and I really love that. It means they see the life in the static pose and it’s intentional.
How does your environment inform your work?
I definitely love to listen to music and the energy of the music, or podcasts or audiobooks, comes through. It’s really like there are two parts of your brain. There is a monkey-mind and it needs to be kept busy with mind-candy, like a mystery novel. Then there is this other part that’s slow and creative. I can stay with the creative mind as long as that busy brain is occupied. Otherwise, I want to get up and go do the laundry, make food, check Instagram; I just have a hard time staying focused on creating, even though it’s really fun. I just get distracted so I have to have something to babysit my busy mind.
You mention Deborah Butterfield as an influence. Can you elaborate?
Right in the beginning, I didn’t do anything with horses when I was painting. Then I read an interview with Deborah Butterfield and she really inspired me since her entire career has been on the horse. Her biggest influence on me was to give myself permission to explore the horse as a motif. As far as visual influencers, I would start with Rembrandt Bugatti, Dylan Lewis, Javier Marín, and George Carlson for along the lines of what I am doing.
What subject or pose have you sculpted the most? Why?
The Mutual pose. I didn’t set out for that to be my theme, but I love it. And I am coming into that theme in my own life where I want that collaboration, support, and community. I have been such a loner and that’s typical of an artist, but I’ve been wanting more of a connection. That’s a big part of my journey: finding my art and finding my partner. In a broad sense, it’s also that connection with friends and other artists with collaborations.
What do you do when you’re stuck on a piece?
I shift to another piece. Sometimes I ride my horse or I shift to painting. It really helps me to shift mediums because they help each other. A lot times with sculpture the problem is not where you’re looking, but somewhere else. I like to take a nap and have the piece in front of me right when I wake up, so I can see it with fresh eyes. Usually, the answer is clear and I can solve the problem.
When I was lived in Big Timber, Montana, I had a bow and arrow. I would do some archery and that was a great way to relax my mind a bit. It didn’t take long and it really got me in a different place.
What are you currently inspired by (reading, listening, other)?
Right now, I am a voracious consumer of all things metaphysical. Energy, how beliefs affect our reality, how we create our own reality. I think my feelings are going to come out more in the paintings because the sculpture has more of a narrative, whereas paintings are purely spiritual and energy.
What do you do besides your art?
I compete in eventing (a type of horse triathlon) with my Thoroughbred Smokey Dehere, a.k.a. Mo. It takes a lot of time and it’s hard to balance competing as well as an art career.
What is your favorite destination?
I am a traveler and there are so many places I still want to go, but I really love France. I spent 6 months in Aix-en-Provence. I also feel so comfortable in Spain and think I could live there, but I think my heart is French.
Do you have a motto?
My guidance right now is to trust myself, to know that I have the intuition. I listen to that voice inside. I’ve always lived that way. I haven’t done anything traditional because if my heartfelt unhappy, regardless of what that meant, I had to make a change. I follow my intuition, instead of following what I think is going to sell or what a gallery wants me to do.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.