The Real Horsewife of Morgan County : artist Bonnie Beauchamp Cooke and her equestrian masterpieces
Produced, written and art directed by Brian Patrick Flynn with photography by Sarah Dorio
You can always tell the character of a person by the company they keep. While this is defamatory for friends of Jon Gosselin, others may find it a complementary two-way street. Artist Bonnie Beauchamp Cooke is in the company of horses so it’s plain to see why she’s a majestic beauty herself. The Southern Belle, whose work can be seen in Atlanta and online at Huff Harrington Gallery, brought us up close and personal to her farm in Madison, Ga., for a look past the brushstrokes.
From the moment I laid eyes on Bonnie’s equestrian diptych hanging on a designer friend’s wall, I was smitten. The horse fascination is rather unfitting since (a) I’m horrified of horseback riding and (b) I didn’t even make it halfway through Seabiscuit or The Black Stallion. But after all, I am a decorator and therefore instinctively drawn to well-crafted beautiful things.
Writing text about art is like breakdancing to algebraic logarithms. The subject loses its impact when you’re not experiencing it first-hand. To avoid being verbose in relation to Bonnie’s work, we decided to tell the story visually — from the artist herself to inspiration and technique to medium. My photographer and I decided to spend an entire afternoon down on the farm to assure nothing was lost in translation.
Simply writing about Bonnie’s horse paintings won’t do them justice. We thought y’all would get a better understanding if you SAW them in their own environment. From the stable to the bales, inspiration is everywhere. Notice the random hay-like strokes against the white background. Coincidence? I think not. Rustic textures from Bonnie’s farm are very much a part of her style. Grainy brown tones reminiscent of fences, soil and planks of barn siding are present in almost all of her paintings.
Each equestrian piece is painted with acrylic and oil tones of chocolate, ochre, rust, olive, sky blue and antique white. Since Bonnie moves back and forth from the farm to her house in the city, the materials are kept mobile and can be set up anywhere inspiration strikes. Just like a good journalist, an artist never fully reveals their source; however, Bonnie did share the overall genetic makeup of her famous texture. Wire is used to create rough textures and lines in unique materials such as loose mica [which creates much of the orange tones in Bonnie's work]. Gel medium is also thrown into the mix to add a malleable thickness.
All the pretty horses
NINE full-time models reside on the farm — Bonnie’s horses. Breeds include one Appaloosa, one Thoroughbred, two Tennessee Walkers and five Quarter Horses. The amber glow cast on the horses during sunset is similar to the hue from loose mica in the equestrian art. Although the horses are family to Bonnie, the farm’s kindred spirits are not limited to equus. Her mom and dad live a stone’s throw away. Literally — like eighteen feet from the door. For decades they’ve owned farm property in Madison. Over the years the property has been upgraded and expanded to a current ownership of 1000 acres. But it’s not all fun and games. Bonnie, George and three staff members raise and maintain over 150 grass-fed cattle. They market their healthier form of beef through Cooke Cattle Company. In addition to this, they create their own hay. Many thanks to the Beauchamp and Cooke families for (a) making me feel like a major lazy-ass and (b) pointing out that hay comes in BALES and not BAILS. Technically, I had a spelling error prior to copy editing.
Dog day afternoon
While Bonnie is all eyes on the canvas, her four-footed quintet of canines have all eyes on the property. Two of man’s best friends, Sugar and Barbi, go back and forth from the farm to the city while the remaining three — Mama, Honey and Gus — stand guard in Madison. Barbi, a black and white Border Collie, is the breakout star of the pack. The playful control freak is just as good at wrangling cattle as she is playing security guard to Bonnie’s paintings and easel [as demonstrated above].
All horses aside, Bonnie’s sophisticated figure drawings sell at a lower price point than the equestrian collection. These paper masterpieces play nicely in groups. Each figure is brought to life with graphite pencil. The orange shimmer is the result of loose mica which Bonnie applies directly with her finger. For shading, Bonnie adds touches of a silver-toned loose Chinese graphite [in plastic container pictured above]. Framed drawings are for sale online through Huff Harrington Gallery.
The finish line
Afternoons at the easel come to a dream sequence-like end as Bonnie bids her cavalry their nightly farewell. Tristan and Kyle [Bonnie's sons -- left and center] escape to cyberspace following their real-life version of Farmville as Mom prepares dinner. And tomorrow the real horsewife of Morgan county will wake up to do it all over again.