By Shya Beth
Show jumping throughout the years has changed into a global, larger-than-life sport, and the same could be said about Steve Messenger’s colossal equine paintings. Steve has an uncanny ability to collect emotions together on his canvas, bringing his images to life in ways only a truly knowledgeable and talented artist can.
Steve was born outside the city of Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in the Baltimore suburb of Columbia. While a young adult, he and his brother both took riding lessons, catching the “horse bug” early on. Spending days hanging out at the stable and learning more about horses created the foundation for Steve. “My brother and I took riding lessons,” he said, “but it was working at Laurel and Pimlico as a hot-walker when I was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art that got me interested in the equine body as a subject.”
While juggling art school and his job as a stable hand, his first encounter with combining his two passions came in the form of a figure painting class, giving him the opportunity to see a new way he could earn a living by bringing together two subjects he loved. However, at the same time, a new opportunity forced him to choose between working at the stables and art school. “I dropped out of art school at that time when an opportunity arose to groom for New Hope Farm. That was when the Korean Olympic team was being trained there by John Madden, and it was such an invaluable experience for me.”
Returning to Art
After moving on from his time as a groom at New Hope Farm, Steve picked up work at Gates Head Farm, outside of New Hope, Pennsylvania. “There was a big art scene there,” he said. “It got me interested in art again and I finished my degree at UARTs in Philadelphia.”
Back to being both a student and a groom, Steve was determined to make sure he didn’t lose sight of his second passion, particularly once he found an affluent market that enjoyed showing off their love of horses and the lifestyle as much as they loved being around horses themselves.
With show jumping and dressage being the disciplines he was most experienced in, it wasn’t long until he started crafting his own recognizable style that mixes a touch of realism with an eccentric color palette, and sometimes larger-than-life canvases that portray the epic movement that horses show throughout all disciplines. Steve notes that while he paints other animals when commissioned to do so, his love remains with horses, which are also his most popular subjects.
Bringing It All Together
Now a full-time artist working just a short distance from Philadelphia in Collinswood, New Jersey, Steve still enjoys going out to see “real” horses, whether that’s photographing local client horses or going to South Jersey Horse Rescue’s location in Atlantic County, New Jersey, to help give back to the horses that have given him so much. The rescue’s mission is to provide a loving sanctuary to abandoned, neglected, abused and slaughter-bound horses. While working from photos that he takes himself or that clients send in, Steve makes sure that his pieces are not a direct copy of the image, but rather an artistic approach to showing the spirit of the animal he’s portraying.
Changing from an industrial building in Philadelphia to a converted single-car garage, he has designed the perfect studio space — hung with drywall and painted, sealed and equipped with flat files and bright flood lights for photographing his larger-than-life paintings. Working on the colossal scale he does requires ample room to stand back and carefully evaluate each work in progress to make sure each one is as he imagines it to be.
Steve works in both oils and acrylics; however, acrylics have proven to be his favorite and most popular medium. “A question I get a lot is why my work looks the way it does, especially the large black and white paintings,” he said. “I wanted to create the effects of fine charcoal drawings without the mess or requirements of glass framing.” Steve usually chooses to eliminate the background and to fully focus on his subject, drawing attention to the details of the horse’s physical presence.
When asked what his goals are for the future, Steve said, “I would like to get to more horse shows.” Creating these equine portraits isn’t only Steve’s passion, but also a way that horse owners and enthusiasts can enhance their living space. Each unique and one-of-a-kind painting adds a vibrantly colorful and bold presence to their lounge or living room while seeing their favorite horse immortalized through the vibrant hues of Steve’s palette.
For more information, visit Facebook.com/equineartbystevemessenger and instagram.com/messengerfineart
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, art exhibitions and art news, Art Of The Horse is the premier source for all things equine art.
Photos courtesy of Steve Messenger