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12 Questions with painter and horseman, Andy Woll
Andy Woll is bored with the cliché of the tragic, alcoholic Western artist. And he almost was one. About ten years ago he got off that horse and has since saddled up many others with names like Hamilton, Magic, and Coolmore. Woll splits his time between his duties as semi-professional “barn rat” (and blue-ribbon-winning show jumper) at the San Pascual Stables near Highland Park and his eastside painting studio, where he’s produced an impressive range of paintings depicting abstracted views of Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles and lots and lots of paintings of horses. Venice Beach born-and-raised, mentored by the iconic Los Angeles artist Larry Johnson, and represented by emergent-art fixture, Night Gallery, Woll shows the power of empathy in art and life.
Your life, work, and art is running over with horses. Why is that?
Part of getting sober was realizing my plan wasn’t always the best and to stay open to what was coming my way. And it seems like what was coming my way was horses. It doesn’t just seem like it. That is an indisputable fact. I roll with that. And it’s rewarding. Every part of my life is wrapped up in the training and care of horses. I spend hours every day grooming them, massaging them, leading them, “let’s go this way” or “back off” or “don’t bite me.” We’re physically super close. I’m super familiar. And I think that comes across in the paintings. I make oil paintings on stretched canvas. I paint things that people have always painted. Horses. Mountains. I’m conventional in that sense. I don’t really pick my subjects. They pick me. But I think I have a more intimate personal relationship with the subject than most painters do.
Does sobriety give you a leg up in working with horses?
The whole idea of horsemanship is this empathetic relationship between you and the horse. I can’t imagine being empathetic if I’m not sober. If I’m not sober, all I can think about is myself. I think that’s the reason they're so receptive to me. I'm paying attention. And they can tell that.
Do you find painting to be a spiritual experience?
I think the experience of art, which is what artists are up to, you know, making art, is a spiritual experience. I’m certainly after a transgressive-type experience where it’s more than just looking at a picture of a horse or an abstract painting. It’s looking at a painting and finding some deep human resonance. That’s what I’m after. I’m not really the one to judge if I get that.
What do you do when you hit a creative block?
I tend to go fishing up in the mountains. I’m lucky that I also have the horses to give me a little bit of an out. I can work with the horses if I’m not painting. I can paint if I’m not working with the horses. They tend to level eachother out a little bit. At best. Sometimes I feel a little crazy.
What’s your daily routine like?
Wake up around 7 am. Then, I do my little 10-minute exercise routine. Leg stretches because your legs get really tight from riding. 100 crunches. Scapular pushups. Downward dog. A little glute med exercise. It’s a very important muscle for riding. Then I go to the barn, do the morning chores. Blankets in the winter. In the summer, fill water buckets. Get in my riding boots. I ride Chino, Coolmore, sometimes Magic, sometimes Hamilton, depending on the day. Then, I go to the studio. Then I go back to the barn to do the evening chores. At 8 pm, if we’re lucky, we go home. That’s a solid 12-hour day. Six days a week. Monday’s our day off.
What’s one thing you’ve done sober that you never thought you could do sober?
I don’t think I thought I could do anything sober. Have fun. Feel the limbic rewards system activated in my brain. I thought I was cutting myself off from that jackpot feeling. In fact, I didn’t actually know what that jackpot feeling really was until I got sober.
What’s your go-to non-alcoholic beverage?
Coffee. At the barn there’s coffee season and Gatorade season. It gets really hot out here. In the summer, I switch to Gatorade.
If you could have a Gatorade with one other artist—living or dead—who would it be?
Kerstin Brätsch. She’s an artist I’ve always found really mysterious. I really, really like the work that she makes. I don’t know if she drinks Gatorade.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Wait for the jump to come to you. It’s a riding thing but it applies to a lot of other parts of life. Be patient. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
How has sobriety affected your relationships with the people closest to you?
I can have them. When I was using and drinking I didn’t have relationships. I could count on one hand the number of people I would speak to in a month. And I didn’t even know their real names.
In your mind’s eye, what is the shape of success?
With my riding, I’m always focused on the next ten centimeters of height for a jump. We compete at certain heights. “What’s the next ten centimeters?” I’m always working toward that. The more I think I've achieved some level of success, the more I realize there's always more. You always have to work. The fact is, I'm always going to have to clean my room, make my bed, sweep the floor. That's what living is about.
What gives you strength?
I told you about the morning workout routine, right? The hundred crunches? The workout is pretty minimal compared to my relationship with my wife, Natalie. It’s hard to overstate how much that does for me on a day-to-day basis. The fellowship in sobriety. Just knowing that there’s other people out there doing it, struggling, feeling good. That’s the reason I keep going.
Text by Andrew Smart / Photos by Roman Koval
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