Susan has loved horses since she was four years old, when her grandfather, a vet and breeder of horses, gave her a pony. Horses are her friends, companions, bringers of calm and freedom, and the source of her art. The quality of her drawing began to emerge at boarding school in England, when her work was chosen for children’s exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Art. She thinks that it may have been a small collection of white Chinese porcelain horses which fired her imagination, leading her towards sculpture.
During her first seven years in Florence she worked as a fashion model, taught English in her spare time, took drawing lessons, practising her art when she could.
In 1987 Susan Leyland began creating her first sculptures with the help of Florentine artisans, giving riding lessons to pay the bills. She held her first and second exhibitions in Florentine galleries in 1998 and 1999, in 2000 at Saratoga Springs, New York, the year she became a full time sculptor, and by 2004 she developed her distinctive Horse Block sculptures. She begins with the block, and they ‘literally develop as she manipulates her clay.’
In her own words: ‘the base and the sculpture become one, each evolving and emerging from the other, whilst maintaining total balance and visual purity. The blocks give me a feeling of roots, of stability, whereas in extravagant opposition are the bronze Gallivanting Horse sculptures which are light, joyous and full of quick, fleeting movement.’
Each Horse Block sculpture takes about a month to complete. When the sculptures are dry, they are fired for a week in a furnace reaching a temperature of over 1000 degrees. Before the modelling starts Susan prepares dozens of sketches and studies of horses.
As for her bronze Gallivanting Horses, these are made directly in wax. A simple basic wax model is used to create a starting point for a variety of movements and shapes. The long stem elevates the horses to give the sculpture a fleeting aerial feeling.
As Tamsin Pickeral (publications: The Majesty of the Horse, 2006, 30,000 years of the Horse in Art 2012) writes: ‘ in two separate groups Leyland captures all facets of the horse. She has spent her life studying this most majestic of animals, and the connection between horses and humans.
‘She brings together pure, simple and brilliant geometric form, and from these spare, unfussy shapes conjures horses of tremendous beauty and character.’
Susan Leyland has held solo exhibitions in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Sweden and Germany, She was awarded the American Academy of Equine Art Director’s award in 2008.