In her very large canvases at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, Mass., nearly life-size horses appear to leave the world as they jump straight up into the air, double-jump face to face, race this way and that, and generally horse around.
The works are not so much “about horses,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement for the show, but “of horses.”
That sense of motion is captured in works such as the exhibit’s title piece “Levitation” (an 8-by-6-foot painting), in which an animal weighing more than half a ton hurls himself straight upward to defy gravity in what appears to be the pure ecstasy of being a powerful living creature.
In another of the show's 7 large oils ("Two-Horse High") two leaping horses face one another in a dynamic abstract space somewhere out of this world. A sharp-edged sold image at the lower edge of the composition appears to be a corner of the earth left behind.
Another big painting, "This Way and That," suggests the quality of horses in motion, running "this way and that." Superimposed accent lines in the work stress the mingling of forms the viewer sees when he watches a herd running.
In "Small High Horses I," one of the show's smaller mixed media pieces, two figures rise up on their hind legs and appear to embrace one another in the sort of "horsing around" Bolsey saw when she lived with her husband amid horse farms in rural Maryland a decade ago.
The show’s total of 26 small collages on canvas depict cavorting horses in works the artist calls “Riffs.”
Painting in her studio, Bolsey watched as neighboring horse owners and breeders brought their horses to exercise and kick up their heels on her land. She painted her first horse after a friend rode a horse slowly by her studio, framing the animal’s image in a window as if on a canvas.
“I asked her to bring her horse into the studio,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement. “She walked him across the echoing plywood floor and stood him in profile in front of a canvas (8 feet tall by 6 feet wide), where he fit perfectly.”
From there the painter stood between horse and canvas, running her right hand over his contours and drawing those contours with her left on the canvas. She described the result as looking like a “six-legged moose.” But as a painter, she was off to the races.
Bolsey came back to the subject in recent years after moving back to Kingston, Mass., and found that horses liberated her imagination even more than before.
Now, she says, the work was about "placing the horses in space...To generate a visual experience of levitation, of rising on the canvas, I have to place the objects in space with as much energy in the composition as in the actual pose of the beasts.”
The upward motion of compositions such as "Levitation" and "Two-Horse High" depicts the joy or uplift she finds in her subjects' actions -- their “joie de vivre.”“Something in the content of this body of work, something nutty and exuberant -- the fact that all these huge beasts are in mid-air -- made me feel playful, ‘levitating’ these big critters, visually and formally,” Bolsey said. “You feel they are really, really off the ground, lifted by their own strength and joie de vivre."
There may be a family connection between the appeal of motion in Bolsey’s new show and the pioneer engineering work of her father, Jacques Bolsey, inventor of the Bolex motion picture camera. Bolex cameras proved particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries, and avant-garde films, and are still favored by some animation film makers and film schools today.
One critic has described Bolsey's work as “grand painterly abstractions that use recognizable shapes to explore the phantasm of light.”
The joy of placing those "painterly abstractions" in space transfers to the act of creation, Bolsey said.
All her paintings, whether the images are boats, barns, or beasts, tend to place the weightier elements near the top half of the composition to express that uplift, she said.
"[It’s] impossible to feel earthbound while making these things happen on canvas and paper," she said. “I feel lucky to get to do what I do,” she said.