Every successful painting should have that indefinable 'something'; a quality that makes the viewer look twice, then ponder the image in wonderment. When it happens, when that elusive gets caught in paint, magic happens.
If asked, most horse-crazy people can't remember ever not-being in love with the animals. California native S.J.W. Grogan is no different. She credits her love of horses as the reason she is an artist. "I loved horses so much, and couldn't have one for the longest time," she laughs at the memory "that I started drawing horses. It was my way of 'having' a horse even if just on paper. I had a lot of paper horses."
Grogan was in her teens when she went from pencil sketching to painting in oils, and colorized her equine obsession. By mid-teens, the artist finally got her first real horse, only to face another problem. The sole area to ride in her neighborhood, the Los Angeles suburb of Whittier, were the nearby oil fields. And the journey there usually became an adventure in itself as the route led through an industrial corridor filled with big rigs and heavy freight traffic. "Our horses were bullet-proof from all the noise and activity. Truckers would honk as we galloped down the dirt shoulders. My horse wouldn't even twitch an ear."
Today the artist doesn't have to brave congested highways and oil derricks to enjoy her horses. Grogan and her husband live in the High Desert area of the Western Mojave Desert, miles if not worlds away from where she grew up. In addition to having riding trails and untamed wilderness literally at her doorstep, there is another benefit to her location: a hundred-mile view of the Mojave Desert.
"We moved to Victorville right after we were married in the mid-eighties," she explains as her gaze picks out hazy blue mountains to the north. "Victorville hadn't then been discovered by developers, so it was still a sleepy little desert town. We were able to enjoy the area, and found the Mojave to be uniquely beautiful. The open space settles into your soul. And the silence . . . people don't know what quiet is anymore. The pace of modern life has destroyed quiet. The desert resurrects it."
It was then that the artist discovered the pleasure in painting the surrounding desert, capturing Joshua trees or abandoned shacks set against the backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains. For the first time in her art, horses took a backseat. She smiles at admitting that. "I think it's all the same, really. Horses represent power and freedom, and in many ways, so does the desert. Living here, you appreciate the ecology of the area. Talk about power: the sun, sky, wind; cold, heat—all demand respect. And through that respect, you start to understand its beauty."
Painting that beauty is Grogan's goal, made all the more challenging by her current palette in oils. She limits her materials to seven base colors: six double-primary hues (two reds, two yellows, two blues; all with different under-base colors), with white rounding out the seventh spot. Likening her palette to the simplicity of the desert, Grogan mixes all she needs from her base seven. "Artists much smarter than I am came up with this system, one of them being Rembrandt," she says. "I'm more than happy to use Rembrandt's tricks."
Finally pushed out of Victorville by the increasing population, Grogan and her husband relocated to Phelan where the rural—and horse-loving—lifestyle still reigns. "Most days the only thing that limits our view is the curve of the earth. We feel like we can touch mountains that are really a hundred miles away."
Grogan says that she and her husband love the desert so much that vacations are easy: they travel throughout the Southwest to fully enjoy the desert. An important part is the Grand Canyon, what the artist considers to be the heart of the region. Her paintings of the West Rim area capture majestic ramparts yet also focus on more intimate scenes of desert springs and winding trails. Those views, whether desert mountains under towering thunderheads or horses in various modes of equine repose, solidly occupy the artist's heart and paintings and her collector's homes.
"That is the most satisfying part of painting: when I succeed at capturing an image so well that a collector wants to purchase and live with it. Not only am I sharing my talent and vision, I'm sharing my love of my subjects with people who feel the same way. It doesn't get any better than that."
As long as, of course, there is always a view of the desert—and a horse, nearby.
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Other Web Pages that S.J.W. Grogan Recommends you visit
(These pages are not necessarily about S.J.W. Grogan)