With a passion of all things horses stemming from early childhood, Susie Benes has dedicated her life to her art, using her equine inspirations as models for her unique and sometimes complex sculptures. Her recent sculpture series explores the power, shape and grace of the horse through the horse’s legs and hooves, which carries the horse’s weight and strain when trotting, jumping and galloping.
Growing up in Toronto, Ontario, Susie completed a master’s degree in the history of art from the University of Oxford when she lived in England. Se also lived in the Czech Republic before moving back to Canada to British Columbia.
When asked about her process, Susie says: “Sculpting is really about engineering and problem-solving because a three-dimensional horse is not only viewed from all sides, but must also balance in some way. Once I decide on what I want to sculpt (inspired by anything from a picture, to a song, to a textile pattern), I build a complex wire armature to support the clay. Then using lightweight air dry clay and epoxy clay, I create a sculpture in layers often using nothing but my fingers and a paintbrush.
I try to let the sculpture evolve as I sculpt and not be too tied to a specific outcome. The sculpture spends up to a week curing. It’s then primed in gesso to seal it and decorated in a variety of paints and pigments. Sometimes I add mixed media materials, such as paper or even leather. Then the whole thing is varnished to protect it from dust and UV damage.”
TFS: When did you first realize that you wanted to make art your career?
SB: I was told all through school that making a career in art was not possible, despite studying art and art history! I spent my early twenties travelling and working in Europe, and once I returned to Canada in 2012 I started developing my art practice. I really spent several years just focusing on finding a sculpture medium that would meet my needs. After settling in Vancouver I decided it was time to take the leap. I wish I had had the courage to ignore other people’s opinions; I would have started a lot sooner!
TFS: How would you define your style?
SB: That’s a tricky one – I like to think of it as contemporary equine art with a nod to the gestural style of the impressionists.
TFS: What is the one tool, in your studio or online, that is imperative to your success?
SB: My hands! I sprained one of my fingers recently and it really made me realize how much my practice depends on the good health of my hands. Gotta keep those babies safe.
TFS: What are you most thankful for?
SB: I am very thankful to be able to have a space to create my work. When it comes to sculpture you need lots of it! I also really appreciate social media, such as the Art of the Horse Facebook group, because I have met and befriended some incredible equine artists. Having a support system of people who understand you is really important, especially when you often work in isolation.
TFS: Are any of your family members involved in art or horses?
SB: Funnily enough, no on both fronts. I’m an anomaly in my family.
TFS: Did you enjoy your time at University of Oxford?
SB: I loved studying at Oxford. It is a magical and unique place, but about halfway through my Masters in Art History, I realized that I prefer making art to studying it. The one thing my advance studies have done is ground my work in a strong theoretical and conceptual basis, as well as an aesthetic one.
TFS: What are you most proud of in your art career thus far?
SB: That I have managed to keep it up despite the difficulties. Making art requires a ton of persistence.
TFS: Any future shows/exhibits?
SB: I will be exhibiting in The Circle Craft Art Market in Vancouver this November. I am also entering several art exhibitions across the USA, but nothing is confirmed yet.