A Visit with Equine Artist Al Glann Posted on 18 Jun 09:00
How many of you can remember that feeling as a child of wanting a horse but not having one? (As a horse-loving child since birth, I will personally never forget the gut-wrenching feeling of witnessing a friend receive an actual pony in the middle of her 5th birthday party while I remained horseless. Oh, the agony!)
Al Glann took that agonizing feeling and harnessed it to create some of the country’s most breathtaking contemporary equine sculptures. I visited his studio in Tucson, Arizona on a beautiful spring day in March to learn more about the inspiration for his work. Born in Ohio, Glann grew up on a family farm. Though they never had a horse, he pined for one for many years. The neighbors had horses, and though he enjoyed the chance to ride and be around horses with his friends, such tantalizing proximity to horses served only to fan the flames of his desire for one of his own. Growing up around farm animals, he found that it was easy for him to connect with horses, yet having a horse remained one of those things that he always wanted but that never materialized. He mentioned that growing up with western-themed television shows and movies was an influence, as the cowboy was such a popular motif of the time. His grandmother gave him a horse clock, which was about as close as he was going to get to having his own horse. Nonetheless, his interest in horses continued to percolate in the back of his mind for years to come.
Fast-forwarding a few years, Glann pursed his talent in the arts which led to a successful career as both a graphic design instructor and a sculptor working in steel and bronze. It was only in 2008 when Glann began work on a series of equine sculptures that would become known as the “Horse Series” that he would finally have an outlet for his fascination with horses. He added that at the time he started work on his first equine sculpture, he brought out that horse clock from his grandmother as one of his early reference sources for checking the proportions of a horse.
It is said that art imitates life, and thus it may come as no surprise to those of us who own horses that since Glann’s first foray into equine sculpture, these horses have taken over his studio. Apparently horses of steel and bronze operate much the same as real horses! Glann estimates that 90% of his work now focuses on horses as a subject. Glann says of creating equine sculptures, “Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I always tell people that I was just planning to do a series of ten horses, but now they’ve taken over my life.” (As any long-suffering spouse of a horse owner can attest, horses do have a way of taking over one’s life.)
As I toured his studio at the Metal Arts Village, natural light from banks of windows above filtered through the studio, illuminating the beautiful lines on both finished pieces and works in progress. The two elements of his work that I found especially captivating were his use of gesture and negative space. Glann says he loves the use of gesture, and this is evident in his work. He noted that as with Japaense sumi-e (brush painting) for example, “Gesture is about being able to grasp the essence of something with very few lines.” In other words, how much can you take away and still have it read as a horse? Glann said that because negative space is such an integral part of the signature look of his pieces, one of the aspects he has to give a lot of thought to, particularly with the larger scale pieces, is combining the aesthetic with the structural engineering necessary to support the sculpture. When you look at his pieces, you will appreciate that it is one thing to create the artistic vision of the sculpture, and another to incorporate the practical logistics of making the sculpture self-supporting without interfering with the artistic aspect of his distinctive use of negative space.
Glann’s “Horse Series” includes pieces that capture the movement of performance horses in disciplines such as dressage or cutting, as well as the everyday movements of horses at rest and at play. The sculptures are a beautiful contemporary take on horses.
His works are created in steel initially and then cast in bronze. I asked if he starts with a sketch first before creating a sculpture and I loved what he said in response. He said,“I used to start with a sketch, but not anymore. I just sketch in steel now.”
How fascinating that a frustrated ambition to have a horse as a child would have a hand in a life journey that now includes worldwide acclaim for equine sculpture! This should be a good lesson to us all that in every obstacle there is an opportunity, if only you have the vision to see it that way. Glann’s work now shows throughout North America and Europe.
Curious what became of that horse clock given to him by his grandmother? I was interested, so I asked. It sits proudly on a shelf in his art studio to this day. I asked to see it during my visit to the studio, and Glann pointed me to a bronze horse outfitted in parade regalia mounted on a base next to a clock with a horseshoe face. Did Glann ever get his horse? Looking around all the beauty of the equine forms captured in his studio on that late afternoon in March, I’d be tempted to say that from his desire for one horse sprung a complete herd of majestic horses.
Though Glann says he has yet to have a live horse of his own, he shared that one of the most rewarding moments for him is when someone who does have horses will view his equine sculptures and comment on the movement he has captured and say, “That looks just like what my horse did today in the arena!”
For more information on the artwork of Al Glann, please visit http://www.alglannsculptor.com/horses.html The artwork of Al Glann has been selected to be featured in an upcoming issue of Chronicle of the Horse.
Cori McGraw is the founder of High-End Used Saddles, an online retailer of hunter/jumper saddles, and currently resides in Tucson, AZ.