Doers: Nancy B. Frank, A Show of Horses

Doers: Nancy B. Frank, A Show of Horses

Move over George Stubbs. A dark horse named Nancy B. Frank is closing in on your lead and really feeling her, ahem, oats. The path she took was winding, but once this gifted artist hit her stride, she was  – and remains – unstoppable.

Frank’s horses are powerful creatures, beautifully articulated, sensually brushed. Dignity and intelligence shine through their soulful eyes. Frank’s larger-than-life images don’t just rinse the eye either: we are treated to a full bath.




Nancy B. Frank is so good her alma mater chose to honor the artist and her work with a retrospective. “A Show of Horses” is now on display at Ohio Wesleyan University through October 11, 2016. Frank gives an artist talk at a special event on September 15, 5 p.m. in the Kuhlman Gallery, Ross Art Museum. A reception follows, 6 – 8 p.m.

“Never did I guess that when I began to travel the world to ride horses in different countries and cultures that my passion for the animal would bring me success in the studio. My images are larger than life, yet intimate, and hopefully capture the beauty and power and grace of the horse, despite the fact the horses I depict are bitted and bound with reins. Humans are always present in my images, but never within the frame – except perhaps as a suggestion, like a caressing hand. It is the special agreement between us and them and spirit of both protagonists in the narrative that make my paintings shine with light and life and authenticity.”




When she was a girl, Frank did not just love horses, she thought she was a horse.

“My best friend Peggy and I galloped around my dining room table on our hands and knees. We galloped with scarves sticking out of our pants to look like tails.”

The artist – who holds an M.F.A. in photo-printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a B.F.A. in painting at Ohio Wesleyan University –  has lived in Telluride since 1989.

Out of the gate, Frank worked successfully in a variety of mediums: jewelry, sculptured cakes, painted furniture, and photography. In fact, her whimsical, over-the-top cakes landed her a feature in The New Yorker.

Back then, however, when she painted, Frank’s subject matter was, frankly, all across the metaphorical map: planets, pearls, birds, and bats galore. While decorative and technically proficient, these early works amounted to lots of hustle, no flow.

And despite her childhood passion for equines, fact is Frank had routinely shied away from horses as a suitable subject matter.





Horse painting has a long and storied history: just think about the Parthenon frieze; the equestrian portraits of Verrochio and Donatello; the regal equines of Peter Paul Rubens; Degas’s horses at the racetrack; and Picasso’s “Guernica.” And, in the 18th century, the aforementioned Stubbs (1724-1806) became the go-to guy when it came to horse images. (To this  this day, the man is widely considered the best horse painter who ever lived.)

Frank knew that history, but had swallowed the standard rap on horse and “sporting” art in general: holier-than-thou critics, even other painters, have historically looked down on animaliers, those who painted only animals, as minor artists who produced work for the amusement of the leisure class only. That was true even in the 18th century, the Age of the Horse.

“So many people like me love the power and grace of a horse, but for years I felt trying to capture that majesty on canvas was such a cliche.”

Those feelings changed when Frank began doing equestrian travel to different countries and cultures. Because of digital photography, she was able to paint from her original color photographs. Frank found herself painting horses, amen, now from the strength of her photographer’s eye and the heart of a person who loves them.

Frank never liked empty spaces on canvas, so she photographed her horses to fill the screen and, subsequently, the picture plane, with haunches and heads, manes and tails, glossy coats, bits, and reins in extreme close-up.




And in doing what she does in the unique way she does it, Frank reigns supreme: her horse images are fraught with the dynamic tension embodied by these powerful, proud creatures, bound up with tack, yes, but only seemingly submissive. Collectively, as in the current show at her alma mater, the work packs a wallop: Frank’s horses clearly mark the moment the artist came into her power, the result of finding her natural subject and creating work that is very very good – and owning that fact.

Nowadays, when it comes to painting horses, Frank owns the finish line.

“My horse paintings mark the first time in my life as an artist that I managed to marry my love of color with a subject I know and love. When I paint horses, I am out of my head, working from my heart. There is good reason that ‘art” is embedded in ‘heart.’”


1 Comment
  • Anne Bachner
    Posted at 13:22h, 11 September

    Thanks, Susan Viebrock, for introducing me to Nancy B. Susan’s insight into the artist’s process and growth, brings Nancy B to life, and informs the enjoyment of her powerful horse paintings.