Seeking out truth and beauty
September Vhay distills her subject, painting only the essential lines and tones. “My challenge is to portray reality by painting its essence,” explains the artist. “It is here that truth and beauty reside. I enjoy seeking it out and sharing it with others.”
Vhay is one of many Western artists inspired by the theory and technique of Japanese ink and wash paintings, or sumi-e; most notably, she shares this influence with Georgia O’Keeffe. The sumi-e artist attempts not only to reproduce the appearance of the subject using the fewest possible strokes, but to reflect its soul — in Vhay’s case, the equine spirit.
Her series Red Horses exemplifies sumi-e in its purest form. Fluid, gestural outlines painted boldly in crimson celebrate the strength and grace of the equine form, as well as the simple nuance of line, revealing the artist’s background in architecture. “I learned so much about composition, light, and structure from architecture,” shares the painter, who earned her architecture degree at the University of Oregon and had the opportunity to study with professors from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. It was here, in Denmark, that Vhay formally studied watercolors in order to create presentation images of proposed buildings.
Prior to her study abroad, Vhay had obtained informal experience with watercolors at home. Both her father and grandfather were architects and watercolorists, and the sculptural work of her great-grandfather, Gutzon Borglum — who carved Mt. Rushmore — filled her grandmother’s house. Vhay preferred her great-grandfather’s comparatively small-scale work, which often featured horses, a love he shared with his great-granddaughter.
Growing up on a ranch in Nevada, the artist developed an affinity for horses that is beautifully expressed in her paintings. In her watercolor Dreams of Midnight, an elegant series of curves flow from the tail down the back and up the neck of the horse. Following the undulating line has a soothing effect, suggesting the pervasive calm the artist experiences in the presence of these powerful animals.
“We need beauty in the world,” Vhay says of the deceptively simple appearance of her artwork. “Beauty feeds our soul.”
ABOVE: Dreams of Midnight, watercolor, 7 x 9.