Alecia Underhill sees her horses in an fresh and modern way (or at least I think so). Her work is realistic in detail, but can be quite abstract in composition. I think her work is quite “now” and that any equestrian space would get a crisp injection of style with the addition of one of her paintings. Read on to learn more about Alecia.
How long have you been creating art professionally?
I graduated from RISD in 1988 with a BFA in Illustration. I created my first designed product, the Horses From A to Z alphabet poster in that year, and began marketing it, as well as developing my fine art business.
How did you become an artist?
I was always drawing. My childhood artwork was always very detailed, and when I developed an interest in horses, then I was determined to master drawing them. Drawing and making things were my favorite things to do, so I set my sights on art school in eighth grade. I chose my local public high school over the private school because they had a better art program. I tried to get as broad an education in the arts as possible and stacked my high school schedule with as many courses as possible. Although I knew I was more of a two-dimensional artist than a sculptor or a 3-D thinker, I had an excellent foundation program in all aspects of design. RISD (The Rhode Island School of Design) opened up the world for me. It teaches not just the making, but the creative and critical thinking. I decided on Illustration as a major because I felt that I needed something that gave the possiblity of a job after graduation, and I fully intended to pursue children’s book illustration or work for a greeting card company. The latter I did for a short time, but soon realized it was not feeding my creative soul. I have done some freelance illustration work, but it has not remained my main focus.
How did the horse become your primary subject?
How do you describe the style of your artwork?
I have always had a realistic style that I describe as contemporary realism. I had always focused on developing a whole composition, with background elements, and a complete scene, but I have veered away from that style into a bit more graphic compositions, with enlarged, cropped horse heads or parts of horses. I love patterns and grids, and bold shapes. I love bold shadows that define forms. And lately, my work has expanded to include more farm animals such as chicks and cows, pigs, goats and sheep. I am drawn to the domestic animals because of the human relationship we have with them, (unlike wild animals which we see from afar). I’m fascinated by the way we tend to impose human emotions upon pets and domestic animals, and try to imagine what they are thinking. I tend to choose subjects that “speak to me” to use a cliched phrase, but it’s the best way I can describe that mysterious ‘something’ that grabs you in an animal’s expression.
How do you get inspired?
I tend to seek out events such as shows, fairs, driving competitions, etc., where I can photograph a variety of animals. And I am endlessly inspired by the animals on my own farm. I have an extensive bank of reference photos, and sometimes I know when I shoot something what I am going to use to make a painting, but sometimes I pick through and combine elements of different photos.
Which is your favorite medium to work with and why? What size do you prefer most to work in?
I primarily work in oil, occasionally watercolor and ink, and very rarely, acrylic. I work a range of sizes from 5 x 7 inches, up to 3 x 4 foot canvases. I think my favorite sizes are 11 x 14 or a 20 x 20 square, because I have a lot of work in these sizes. I wish I had more time to experiment with other media. I would like to play around with some sculpting, and do some book-making, but most of my available time is spent flinging paint on canvas.
What’s your history with horses?
When I was a freshman in high school, I went to work at a big riding stable where my parents thought that if I shoveled some manure I would give up the “horse thing.” It didn’t work of course, but I appreciate that opportunity that I had. I am glad they didn’t agree to buy me a horse at that age either. I had a Morgan mare that was my lead horse for trail rides that I could sort of call my own. I bought my own halter and brushes, but had none of the actual expense of caring for her, so it was ideal. When I was out of college and supporting myself, a friend needed a home for her Morgan mare and sold her to me for $1.00. When she passed away, I purchased an eight-year old Morgan mare Hylee Unique that is now 28 years young, and she will always hold the most special place in my heart. She has get-up-and-go, yet she’s responsive and just so easy to ride. I have a second Morgan mare now, Belle, that is my current trail horse. She can be stubborn and moody, but is also beautiful and full of personality.
What is your favorite part of your being an artist? Any parts you don’t enjoy quite as much?
My favorite part is being in my studio painting. If I never sold anything or showed my work I would still feel the need to create. I also enjoy teaching and giving workshops, because I like to be able to pass on knowledge about my craft and watching the lightbulb go on for someone who is learning. I would say that my least favorite thing is packing artwork to ship. Nobody tells you when you decide to become an artist how much time you will spend making boxes and crates. I don’t mind the web design and social media marketing stuff. I should probably spend more time at that than I do, but I like to have the ability to do my own advertising graphics and build and maintain my own website instead of outsourcing that work.
What’s next for you?
I currently have four galleries to keep supplied with new work, and that is just about all that I can handle at the moment. I have been trying to get outside to do more plein-air painting which is a looser style than my usual studio work. I don’t really market my plein-air work, but I use the knowledge I gain about color from painting outdoors to inform my work done in the studio. I may have a number of works in a group show in Providence in the spring of 2017 featuring my horse work. In the more immediate future I have a series of alpaca paintings in the works.
How/where can our readers purchase your artwork?
I have a number of equine works at Equis Art Gallery in Red Hook, New York. Bluestone Art Gallery in Philadelphia, ArtProv Gallery in Providence, and Silver Circle Gallery in Putnam, all have some of my work available as well. And anyone can go to my website to view available works, and contact me if interested in purchasing a piece. I do custom portraits in oil of horses and other pets, and I occasionally offer small watercolor and ink sketch portraits.