By Shya Beth
Even though Kesia Finley’s path to the world of horses and art was paved with obstacles and heartache, you could say she was destined to bring her artistic talents to the world. In March of 2020, right after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when Kesia was furloughed from her job, her father passed away from a heart attack. She immediately ordered art supplies, as drawing brought her comfort and a creative way to express her feelings.
It didn’t take long for the skills she had honed as a child to come rushing back and propel her forward into her artistic journey. “I suppose my story is unique in many ways,” she said. “And perhaps that sets me apart. I had so many odds stacked against me, for a very long time, but I found my way.
“I began to share my work on my personal Instagram page,” she explained. “People liked it, and began to ask to purchase my pieces—I was scared by the reality of losing my job the way I had, in a manner completely out of my control, and I decided I wanted something I had control over—where I could essentially pay myself, doing something that I loved.”
Kesia is self-taught, illustrates in pencil and intensely studies her subject to re-create what she sees. “Sometimes I use several reference subjects in order to complete one piece, but I’m a highly visual person, and this is the method by which I’m able to bring them to life.”
Since returning to her job as a regional manager of 32 stores, it’s been a balancing act. Kesia works on her art within her 550 square foot apartment that she shares with her 12-year-old Australian shepherd, Kaia, and her husband, Alexandros. “It’s a tight squeeze,” Kesia admitted. “But after six years in NYC, you become highly resourceful and adept at miraculous feats of organization.”
From Landscapes to Cityscapes
Kesia was born in 1987 in Kansas and is the youngest child in a family of seven children. “My parents are both from the Midwest, and I still have a Midwestern tendency to over-enunciate when I speak and leads people in NYC to believe I’m from somewhere interesting like Prague,” she said. “I’ve moved around a lot since then, but it’s always stuck.”
When Kesia was six, her family moved to Atlanta, then to Seattle, and at age 13 they moved to Utah, where Kesia lived until her young adult years. This is also the place that resonated most deeply to her, and where her love of the mountains, Western way of life and the wildness that comes from that part of the world has impacted her art. “I always either had my nose in a horse novel, or I was drawing horses. I had horse encyclopedias where I would study tack, and anatomy, and learn all the different breeds, and with a trusty stack of printer paper and a #2 pencil, I did my best to bring them to life.”
Since Kesia was always obsessed with horses, her family found a stable where she could ride. At 14 years old, Kesia was breaking 3-year-old Arabians, learning the ins and outs of it all. “It was here where I also found the love of my life, my sweet Silvy, WM Mono’s Choice. She was a 4-year-old dappled grey Polish-bred Arab filly sent to the farm to be broken and sold, and I fell head over heels in love with her at the age of 15. When I was 16, my parents bought her for me—it was the happiest day of my life! I trained her in everything and showed her in local Arabian Horse Club and All Breed shows in Salt Lake City.”
Turning Challenges Into Opportunities
With the monetary cost of attending school, Kesia never entertained the idea of college. She taught riding lessons on the side, started working retail jobs and moved into management by age 22. She worked for a company that would relocate her every few years to repair businesses that had poor management or to open new locations, and not wanting to lose one of their best employees, the company agreed to Kesia’s requirement: Wherever she moved, her horse must be relocated to her new home, too.
“From Utah to California, Philadelphia and Connecticut, my Silvy and I found our way around the country and learned to like the Northeast a great deal,” Kesia said.
In 2015 while living in Connecticut, on a cold March day, Silvy came down with a horrible colic. Not wanting her to suffer, Kesia had to let her go peacefully.
A few weeks later, Kesia accepted a job and relocated to NYC, where she now balances her art, work and personal life. “Having a creative escape is the best part for me,” she said. “I’ve experienced a great deal of pain in my life. I lost a brother when I was 25, my father two years ago, the tragic loss of my Silvy, the process of leaving the church I grew up in and navigating a divorce. All of these things contribute to a great deal of emotional and psychological pain for me. But finding my art saved me in a way I can’t fully express.”
Kesia recently completed one of her most detailed works yet: “Cochise,” a bison in graphite. “I donated a chunk of the profits from the original and prints to a Native American organization, and it helped me realize that I can create work that evokes emotion in people. I can do things to help and to educate. What a beautiful thing to be able to do that through art.”
For more information, visit kesiafinleyart.com or follow @kesiafinleyart on Instagram