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Artists celebrate 'The Wonders of the Horse'

Article Published: Jun. 10, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Artists celebrate 'The Wonders of the Horse'

Area sculptor Alex Hallmark went from working in real estate to working in art full time.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge

Art and Artifacts and Blowing Rock Gallery of Homes and Land are sponsoring a show entitled "Equine: The Wonders of the Horse," just in time for the 86th annual Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show.

Art and Artifacts spokeswoman Lynn Hill says the timing's no accident.

"A lot of people who love horses and read and live horses will be in town," she said, and, as a result, she has organized the artwork of local sculptor Alex Hallmark and Cedar Grove-based painter Brian Hibbard at the gallery, located at 159 Sunset Drive in downtown Blowing Rock.

The Mountain Times got a preview of the show, which celebrates its opening reception Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the gallery.

For more information about the show, check out

Alex Hallmark
Alex Hallmark is all about the realism.

"If you don't know what it is, I've failed," he said with a smile.

With an easy wit and a large portfolio of work that includes, among other signature pieces, the World War II Memorial in Morganton, Hallmark brings more than just skill to his bronze and resin sculptures: he brings a relaxed attitude, honed after leaving his job of 30 years in real estate for the less stable but more creative career of full time sculptor.

"I think my main impetus for changing was boredom. And I mean that. You can only be bored, at least I could only be bored, for a certain amount of time," he said.

With the support of his family, including his father, former Blowing Rock mayor Gene Hallmark, the transition from Realtor to artist was surprisingly easy. He can still remember the moment he realized he was truly an artist.

"I was working hard on faces and trying to get some life into a human head, and I did one that was from a photograph of a young ballerina who was obviously nervous and I got it, you know?" he said. "She was young and nervous and had some stress in her face, and that was the first time I thought, 'Wow, you know I might be able to do this.'"

That was more than 10 years ago.

Blowing Rock, where he's lived since 1973, continues to influence his work.

"[The mountains] give you a nice isolation," he said. "It focuses your mind, unclutters things."
The focus allows him to create realistic depictions of the world around him, mostly through sculpture portraits and animal figures.

"I'm kind of a romantic, so it's always got a feeling behind it," he said. "Feelings and figures and shapes are more important than technique."

That emphasis is particularly noticed in pieces like "Bucephalus," based on Alexander the Great's horse of the same name.

"That horse was afraid of its shadow, so this is a war horse," he said. "It's powerful. But it's still frightened. There's some good movement in that piece."

Horses, a popular commission theme of late, make up a large part of the collection displayed at Art and Artifacts.

"I like horse's bellies," he said. "It seems to me a horse's strength comes from their necks and from their guts."

Another of Hallmark's favorite subjects? Dogs. Dog pieces make up the bulk of the work on display at Art and Artifacts.

"People's reaction to their dogs is always wonderful," he said. "People who like dogs really, really like dogs and they really like their own dog, you know. So I do a lot of posthumous dog portraits, and it's fun to see people get emotional over their own dog. I told somebody that, 'Sure, Michelangelo could make people cry over the Pieta, but I can make people cry over a German Shepherd. That's supposed to be a joke."

Hallmark, whose work is also on display at St. Mary's of the Hills church in Blowing Rock, is completely self taught and uses water-based clay and delicate brushwork to create the models for his pieces. For more information, check out

Brian Hibbard
For Cedar Grove-based painter Brian Hibbard, painting is a family affair. Not only is his wife a full-time artist, his mother used to display artwork at his childhood home in Greenville, S.C.
"It fascinated me," he said. "At one point, I was probably in fifth grade, and she had a really nice charcoal drawing she had done ... I tried to draw one as good or better than her."

And, while his fifth grade sketch may not have met his high standards, his equine pieces have caught the eye of collectors across the state.

His series consists of dozens of horse silhouettes, emblazoned with collage and color. It's a dramatic shift from the realistic oil portraiture he focused on at the beginning of his career. It's a transition he attributes to the years he and his wife spent out west.

"We worked at a ranch, and our living quarters were attached to the tackhouse," he said.

"[When back in North Carolina] I kind of longed to go back out there. I just wasn't able to. So, I just started painting horses. Horses brought back that feeling I felt, of being young, being out west and having fun, and the silhouette of a horse is beautiful."

With realistic silhouettes contrasting with the bright color of the paint, his artwork meshes the contemporary with a careful understanding of classic painting techniques.

"I started off taking older abstract paintings and figure paintings I had that weren't working ... and drawing the silhouette of a horse over the top of them and painting around the figure," he said. "I really liked the look of them ... From there I was like, 'What else can I do?' I just started playing around with different collage elements."

Add in some old farm journals, and his equine pieces took a different direction.

"I can do realistic oil painting ... but there's something fun about doing something different... stumbling upon something that hasn't been seen before," he said. "Still even to this day, I'll try to think of something new. I'll have an idea about something and, if the painting itself doesn't work, I can always do a horse over the top of it."

Through mixed media, he has even created political statements within his pieces, notably a horse silhouette marked with newspaper print reading "war" that he created after 9/11.

The Winthrop-educated artist, who also continues to paint landscapes and portraiture, had another important influence in his equine series: His two sons, ages 8 and 6.

"They're so into old cowboy movies and music and love horses," he said. "They always had cowboy hats and boots. They're fascinated by it."

The homegrown sustainable development lifestyle is one Hibbard emulates, and it's reflected in the old farmhouse he has turned into a house for his growing family, complete with livestock and a garden.

"As a kid I kind of wanted to be around all that, and I never was, so you only live once," he said, "Might as well do it."

Hibbard took a year off painting to refurbish the house, and when he picked up a paintbrush again a few months ago, his subject shouldn't surprise you.

"I was back to painting horses," he said.

For more information, check out

Arts & Artifacts is located at 159 Sunset Drive in downtown Blowing Rock.

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