From Dreams To The CanvasDonna B Captures The Magical Essence Of Horses
Many girls grow up with a dream of horses but not everyone can have a pony in their back yard. For artist Donna Bernstein (known as Donna B), her imagination became the fertile ground to create their curves and movement, their character and spirit. Painting horses dates back 20,000 years to the cave drawings of Lascaux, France. Traditionalists have captured the horse as partner in battle, transportation, sport and companionship for centuries. For Bernstein, a fresh and modern approach with an abstract flair reflects her take on the equine world. “I paint the classic form of the horse in modern colors and a signature style,” says Bernstein, “In the process I have learned, it’s not horses that I paint. I paint the way they make me feel.”
Bernstein would often draw with her mother growing up and studied horses’ anatomy and constitution. That understanding informs her work but, as she says, her goal is not to replicate but capture the energy. “People will still come up to me and say ‘Wow that’s my horse.’ I don’t do traditional portraits but often clients would like one of their horses in my style so it’s a different angle. In that case I either visit the horse if possible or have the owner forward a video – watching the horse move and connecting with his personality is key.” Bernstein who splits time between New York and Scottsdale transitioned from a successful business career in marketing and real estate to art when she first moved out West. “I had the time and the space to paint more,” she says, “I work mostly in acrylics and inks,” adding with a laugh, “I think my personality is too impatient for oil.” Her process is organic, her steeds springing with energy and ease onto her canvases. Mixing mediums and materials in unique and uncommon ways, often using no brushes, she ink-drips the horse’s form onto the flat canvas, directing proprietary mixtures of acrylics, water-based inks and pigments in alchemical spontaneity, her passion made visible. “I sometimes wonder where did all these horses come from. It’s like a big crazy herd,” she comments.
Her images have now transitioned from canvas to silk scarves, adding fashion to her repertoire. “Being a New Yorker, I don’t do just one thing,” she admits. “I’m taking the image and playing with it and redesigning it until it becomes the overall piece of the scarf. I love the traditional but also wanted to do something a little more contemporary that reflected my take on art which is more minimalist and modern. It’s a different way of expressing a horse.”
The Hamptons are a welcome respite for Bernstein who is regularly at the Hampton Classic and has her work exhibited at the White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton. She also donates to equestrian charities such as CTREE, the Center For Therapeutic Riding on the East End which has a program in Sagaponack for children and adults with special needs as well as the horse rescue operation the EQUUS Foundation. Of her philanthropy Bernstein says, “Horses have done so much for me, and the least I can do is support them.”
Her equestrian interest has even led to being part of a New York based women’s horse racing syndicate, Lady Sheila Stables. She comments, “It was a real adventure to go to the races. Just the experience of being with dynamic women and collecting horses, it brings another element to the racetrack in a professional way. There are also more women trainers which is great.”
You do not have to be an equestrian to enjoy Bernstein’s art. “My art appeals to people who dream of horses too,” she says, “They will look at a painting and it brings out the feeling and the magic of these amazing animals.”