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Precarious Moments

Acrylic on Canvas

In 1978, Jean MacFarland was commissioned by Sports Illustrated Magazine as a young artist to visit the World Championships Three Day Event that was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY. This was a signature event for the recently opened park, and the first time in the U.S. that the Championships were staged.

This event was Jean’s choice, as she was an avid fan of eventing. As an artist, she was inspired by the intense level of trust and the commitment to the partnership between horse and rider.  Sports Illustrated Magazine had provided Jean with as much film and camera equipment as she desired, and she and her husband, Don, covered the cross country course during the course run, being sure to catch every mount on course.

The theme of the precarious moment had been percolating in Jean even while the event was happening. Something about the act of approaching a formidable solid jump structure held her attention.  Could she capture the level of uncertainty and timelessness of being vaulted through the air, with no guarantee of landing safely? The image and phrase became metaphor for Jean in many aspects of how she saw life at the time, and it became clear after the harrowing event that this would be the theme of the work resulting in her experience of being there.

The World Championships of 1978 was riddled with controversy. Being held in the midst of the Southern July, it was hot with high humidity. The ground was hard. The European Warmbloods, fairly new to the sport, had arrived from abroad, and the oppressive heat was a huge detriment to their performance.  Consequently, out of a field of 48 horses, only 25 finished.

The twenty five paintings that comprise the series are a tribute to the contestants and their mounts that completed the course. The numbers of the paintings do not necessarily represent the contestants’ numbers or the order of their succession. The emphasis is on the total number of the field of rides completed. Yet, some horses and riders may be recognizable.

Each one is a study in two colors, sometimes complementary colors, to create the effect of what Jean calls, a “retina burn”. The images were originally designed to display together, as each one is a separate color statement and combined, they presented a one collective art piece.