By Shya Beth
Carrie Nygren is an equine artist whose passion and love of horses shows deeply in her depiction of them.
With Southern roots in Tennessee, Carrie’s journey into the horse world was a self-made one, and started early. With no formal training, Carrie learned what she could and when she could by soaking up as much knowledge by ‘riding by the seat of her pants.’ “I’ve been fascinated with horses since I was in grade school,” she said. “I’d sneak out of the house and run down the street to a friend’s house who had horses in her backyard, as my mother was deathly afraid of horses and wouldn’t let us near them. So I kind of learned just by ‘getting on and going.’”
With a deep respect for dressage and eventing, she’s enamored by the fast-paced and technical disciplines of show jumping and polo, and these are two worlds that are often featured in her oil paintings. At first glance, they may seem like photographs with dramatic neutral backgrounds. But on closer inspection, you’ll discover they are actually paintings.
Horse Crazy Beginnings
When asked about her favorite equine memory, Carrie says, “I guess it would have to be that first horse I ever climbed on down the street. I trusted him to teach me, and he did. Horses are great teachers if you only give them the chance. You can’t teach trust. You earn every minute of trust with a horse, and it’s a magical thing to experience when you both have that shorthand of communication and relationship. I was smitten at an early age, as you can probably tell, and did my darndest to be around horses as often as I could. College had a huge competitive riding program, so if I wasn’t in the studio, I was at the barn catch riding or grooming.”
Doodling, sketching and day dreaming of horses on every surface is a recipe for a budding equine enthusiast — and also an artist. Carrie is primarily an oil painter at this time, though she has worked in, and experienced, many different artistic mediums. “I had a terrific education in college that introduced me to all kinds of media,” she said. “We were taught all the historic media in painting from fresco, egg tempera, encaustic, etc., to the more contemporary painting applications. We hand-ground the paint and made the painting media, while I also spent several years learning printmaking — etching, silkscreen, lithography, etc., which fell right in line with my drawing background. It really gave me insight into everything that goes beyond just painting: a look into the whole process, from when paint was made hundreds of years ago to right now.”
Carrie graduated cum laude with a double major in studio art and art history from Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Her artistic side started to slow down a bit during what she called the “in-between years” of her career. Starting a family and raising two daughters kept her busy until one day, during the years of fueling her daughter’s horse-crazy passions at the barn, she fell in love with horses again. “That’s what motivated me to pick up a brush again — and this time it was an oil brush, to see if I could get the mojo back.”
Projects and Passions
Now flourishing as a highly regarded oil painter, Carrie is focused on living her dream and pursuing the highest forms of excellence in her work. A challenge that she faces? “Living long enough to finish all these paintings I want to get done. Seriously. I’m not sure I’m ever going to run out of subject matter or ideas, which is what we’re all about, isn’t it?” she said. “The day I don’t have an idea for a new painting is the day I should call it ‘lay the brushes down.’ Aside from that, art has been very good to me. Patrons and commissions are building, and I still have so many ideas I want to paint.”
From the idea to the painting, Carrie’s approach is unique. “I honestly don’t think I have a defined creative process. I chew on an idea I have, or rifle through a lot of references I’ve shot, start drawing, and land on what I hope will be a dynamic composition. Then I have to figure out how to get from point A to point B without messing it all up!”
Carrying on her love of horses, Carrie’s eldest daughter has made a career riding in the hunter-jumper world, training and rehabbing horses. “She surprised me one day with a phone call from college telling me she had just spent college funds on a yearling. Paris, aka Princess, has been with us ever since.”
But Carrie is happy to help foster her daughter’s career, just as her own father did hers. “My dad was a painter and a sculptor as I was growing up; landscape and birds were his subjects mostly. He always had artist friends and collaborators around the house or at the foundry, and it was an exciting time to grow up in,” Carrie said. “There were great discussions, a few arguments and more than a few critiques that helped me develop to where I am today. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved art studios.”
Carrie added, “There’s just something about the artists, and the work that inspires me to push myself to do better work. My sister and I both were raised to be creative, which I’m grateful for. I’ve tried to raise both my girls the same way — to be independent and think creatively, no matter what you do.”
Carrie is located in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, with two daughters, three dogs, two cats, a hamster or two, assorted goldfish, a horse — and of course, her art studio. When asked what she thinks the future will be, she replied, “Bright, I hope!”
For more information, visit cnygrenart.com.
Art Of The Horse is the world’s first equine art platform, established in 2014 by Shya Beth. With weekly articles featuring up-and-coming as well as world-renowned artists, exhibitions and art news, Art Of The Horse is the premier source for all things equine art. Visit artofthehorse.net.
Photos courtesy of Carrie Nygren, unless noted otherwise