BY ADAM KENT-ISAAC
There are racehorses, show-jumping horses, carriage-pulling horses, even police horses. But a horse that paints? Really? Where does he buy his berets?
Indeed, there is such a horse, quite nearby, in fact. His name is Justin, and on a farm just outside Columbus, Indiana, he has created a bevy of colorful abstract works, applying paint to the canvas with a brush held in his mouth. He signs his work with a hoof print. And he’s sold more paintings than many of his bipedal colleagues.
A powerfully built stallion of the Friesian breed, Justin was acquired by owner Adonna Combs when he was two years old and originally intended to be ridden in dressage. “He was okay with it,” says Combs, “but I could tell that he was bored. In his last show, he exited the arena before he finished the test.” Call it the first sign of an artistic temperament. Nevertheless, Combs says, Justin isn’t retired from dressage; he’s merely “developing his other talents.”
Now ten, Justin began painting about three years ago. “He was playing around with my riding whip, drawing patterns in the sand,” says Combs. “It looked like he was making brush strokes.” Intrigued, she attached a paintbrush to the whip to see if he would continue the painterly movements, and he did.
“Eventually I worked up enough courage to put paint on the brush,” says Combs, and when she presented Justin with a blank canvas, a star was born.
He’s had some “one-horse shows” at art galleries in Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. “He has friends all over the world now. We’ve been lucky enough to have national and international publicity,” says Combs.
That includes a story in the British magazine, Horse & Rider, and appearances on Good Morning America and The Bob & Tom Show. Justin also has received letters from as far away as Denmark, Taiwan, and Australia, and business from his online gallery has been brisk.
So many of his paintings have sold that Combs has lost count, she says. “People have cynically asked, ‘Who’s going to buy that?’ To which I say, ‘Anybody who wants a great piece of art and a great conversation piece.’”