Well, I certainly enjoyed the last two Mongolia Monday posts and hope you did, too. Thanks again, Simon!
Today it’s back to a subject that has become near and dear to my heart- the takhi or Przewalski’s Horse. I always liked horses, even though I was deathly allergic to them as a kid, but have never been, ahem, drawn to them as a subject until I saw takhi for the first time at the Berlin Zoo in October of 2004. I didn’t even know they were there. I just happened on them in the far nether reaches of the zoo. Seven of them, looking like they’d just stepped out of a cave painting.
I remember that I plopped down on the nearest bench, probably with an idiot smile of delight on my face, to sketch and photograph them. They were enchanting.
I did some research when I got home and found out that they were being reintroduced into Mongolia. So when I signed on for an Earthwatch project there, I arranged a three day trip to the closest site, Hustai National Park. It was spring, which meant cold, windy and and occasional snow, but I saw the horses and got some decent photos. The next step was to get back to Mongolia, which I did in late September-early October of 2006. By then, I’d found out about a third, new release site in western Mongolia, Khomiin Tal, and managed to get out there. There is also a series of three articles I wrote for Horses in Art. One on Hustai National Park, one on Khomiin Tal and one on the domestic Mongolian horses. Look under “Writings” for those.
Then, this last May, I was at the Denver Zoo and saw takhi there. They looked much different from the Berlin animals, as you can see. There are a number of reasons for this that have to do with being kept in captive conditions, which can lead to much heavier bone structure and skull defects. The animals for release come from semi-reserves where they can live and eat more normally.
I’ve been drawing and painting them since that first trip to Hustai, but have hardly scratched the surface of the picture possibilities.
Here’s one of the first paintings, which is available as a limited edition giclee. When I showed a photo of it to a Hustai biologist on my second trip there, she immediately recognized the mare by her mane, which reinforced my desire to paint individuals of a species.
Followers of this blog know how adamant I am about doing fieldwork. I think this next piece illustrates why. There is no way this painting would have happened if I hadn’t been there at Khomiin Tal to photograph both the horses and the habitat. I’ve seen a few other paintings of takhi and so far none of them really looks to me like it was done from reference shot of reintroduced horses in Mongolia. They are pretty obviously captives in Europe or North America. The light’s not right, the land isn’t right and, mostly, the horses themselves aren’t right. But I sure can understand the compelling desire to paint and draw them anyway!
Here’s the most recent painting, a stallion at Hustai. I wanted to really show the valley that is the core habitat of the population of, now, over 200 horses in 15 harems and to try to capture the interesting shape of the shadows on him.
This 10″x 8″ study is going to be listed for sale on EBay tomorrow or Wednesday. It was amusing to watch the foal work out the motor coordination required to scratch that itch.
Lastly, I did a batch of drawings a couple of weeks ago and I rather liked the way these came out. The photos were taken at Hustai this past September. It was late afternoon and this one foal was having “crazy fits”. I’m always looking for animals in action and he/she certainly delivered.