By Doris Degner-Foster
If Claude Monet had been inspired to paint horses, it might look somewhat like Jennings Ingram’s work. Working in oils and acrylics, she paints horses in a contemporary impressionistic style, using bold brush strokes and paint drips.
Jennings often works from the sketches she draws while watching horses competing. She remembered her first visit to the Kentucky Horse Park and the cross-country competition. “They are nuts, but in a great way!” she said. “I was just in awe!”
Jennings’ equine paintings are equally awesome. Her finished paintings may at first seem to be without fine detail, yet the character of the horse comes through whether it’s a placid brood mare with her foal or a powerful dressage stallion.
A Great Beginning
Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Jennings spent a lot of time around horses at her grandparents’ farm. She described an early memory from childhood. “I remember riding bareback in front of my mom, down the long driveway. Part of it is lined with apple trees and I remember sitting in front of her, riding down the lane. It was wonderful.”
From that early beginning, Jennings went on to join the local branch of the United States Pony Club and competed her pony in rallies and eventing. She continued to compete in eventing throughout her teen years until she went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
Jennings feels that her early experiences contributed greatly to her knowledge of equine anatomy. “I think if I hadn’t grown up just spending hours and hours grooming and running my hands over all their surfaces, I wouldn’t be nearly so able to capture the spirit,” Jennings said. “I think it’s just that you have to know horses for a long time and the way that their muscles move. They’re so unique and I think they’re the most beautiful animals on the planet.”
Painting to Capture the Spirit
Jennings, who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, does commissioned work as well as paintings from her imagination. A commissioned piece of art can be done from photos, but she prefers to watch the horse and rider or owner interact firsthand. “If I can, I prefer to drive or fly out and go the extra mile for my clints,” Jennings said. “But if I absolutely can’t, I’ve done commissions from photos. I prefer to have several photos and subject angles, doing different things so that I can get a sense of the movement and the partnership.”
The freedom to paint from her imagination has its advantages, but Jennings prefers doing commissions. “I really like to impress the person who’s commissioning it [so they’re] happy, and I like to make them feel like they have something that’s going to be in their family for a long time,” she said. “Something that’s important to them that really symbolizes their partnership. I like working with the clients, and with people and their horses.”
When doing art from her imagination, Jennings is inspired by seeing horses in different settings. “Usually what I do for work that comes out of my head is sketch horses from life, at a barn or competitions in Tryon or Southern Pines. I usually go to my sketchbook and see what the dynamic moment is that inspires me that I want to explore,” she explained. “Then I make a variety of usually acrylic wash sketches that sort of define the value of the piece, and then I just work from anatomical knowledge.”
One of her latest works is a painting of American Pharoah crossing the finish line in one of the Triple Crown races. It’s another example of her contemporary impressionistic style, capturing the joy of the moment.
Jennings also does impressive, life-size paintings. “The bigger the canvas, the better,” she said enthusiastically. “I like to paint life-size; it’s like standing in front of the horses. I can just start with the surface and go through the details in my head, almost like 3D mapping.”
Although such a large-scale project appears daunting, Jennings said, “To me it feels more natural than painting them small because it’s closer to interacting with the horse in real life. So it’s just always been the most comfortable of all.” She explained that such canvasses are not commercially available so she has learned to make her own canvases, framing and stretching them herself.
Her work has hung in various galleries and she has done several shows. Jennings just finished art shows in Biltmore Village at 10 Brook Street in Asheville, but her favorite place to see her work hanging is in her grandparents’ house. “They’ve really encouraged me to follow my passions,” she said. “When it comes to having a place to become an equestrian, they’ve given me everything so I’m proudest to have my work hanging in their home.”
Jennings said that she’d love to paint American Pharoah from life, capturing the power and personality of the Triple Crown winner. Just imagine how Claude Monet would paint the most famous racehorse of this generation. Jennings is up for the challenge.
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster rides with Harvard Fox Hounds when she isn’t interviewing interesting individuals in the horse sport. She enjoys writing fiction and is working on a middle-grade mystery series where kids ride horses and solve mysteries; and a mainstream murder mystery where a horse strangely appears in different people’s lives to help them through a crisis. Look for her blog, Notes From the Field at: https://sidelinesmagazine.com/blogs/notesfromthefield/
Photos courtesy of Jennings Ingram