The large and magnificent horses in Kingston artist Carole Bolsey’s new show (“Levitations/Horsing Around”) at the South Shore Art Center are never more vividly in the world than when they are trying to leave it behind.
“In very large canvases,” the art center states of the show, “life-size and near-life-size horses are in midair, caught in wild jumps high off the ground, at play and carrying on.”
The show’s 26 small collages on canvas depict cavorting horses in works the artist calls “riffs.” Whether large or small, the works are not “about horses,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement for the show, but “of horses.”
What the works are “about,” the artist says, is space, movement, the act of painting and drawing, and some of the central verbs of life: running, galloping, jumping, standing, gazing, being.
That sense of motion is captured in works such as the exhibition’s title piece, “Levitation,” an 8-by-6-foot painting in which an animal weighing more than half a ton hurls himself straight upward to defy gravity in what appears to be the pure ecstasy of being a powerful living creature.
In another of the show’s seven large oils, “Two-Horse High,” leaping horses face one another in a dynamic abstract space somewhere out of this world. A sharp-edged solid image at the lower edge of the composition may be a corner of the earth left behind.
Another big painting, “This Way and That,” suggests the quality of horses in motion. Superimposed accent lines in the work stress the mingling of forms the viewer sees when watching a herd running.
In “Small High Horses I,” one of the show’s smaller mixed-media pieces, two figures rise up on hind legs as if to embrace, in the sort of “horsing around” Bolsey saw when she lived with her husband amid horse farms in rural Maryland a decade ago.
Painting in her studio, Bolsey watched as neighboring owners and breeders brought their horses to exercise and kick up their heels on her land. She painted her first horse after a friend rode a horse slowly by her studio, framing the animal in a window as if on a canvas.
“I asked her to bring her horse into the studio,” Bolsey writes in her artist statement. “She walked him across the echoing plywood floor and stood him in profile in front of a canvas . . . where he fit perfectly.”
From there the painter stood between horse and canvas, running her right hand over his contours and drawing those contours on the canvas with her left hand. She described the result as looking like a “six-legged moose.” But as a painter, she was off to the races.
Bolsey came back to the subject in recent years after her return to Kingston, and found that horses liberated her imagination even more than before.
Now, she said in a recent interview at the South Shore Art Center, the challenge was “placing the horses in space.”
“To generate a visual experience of levitation, of rising on the canvas, I have to place the objects in space with as much energy in the composition as in the actual pose of the beasts,” Bolsey said of the works in the show.
The upward motion of compositions such as “Levitation” and “Two-Horse High” depicts the joy or uplift she finds in her subjects’ actions.
“Something in the content of this body of work, something nutty and exuberant — the fact that all these huge beasts are in midair — made me feel playful, ‘levitating’ these big critters, visually and formally,” Bolsey said.
“You feel they are really, really off the ground, lifted by their own strength and joie de vivre.”
All of her paintings, whether the images are of boats, barns, or beasts, tend to place the weightier elements near the top half of the composition to express that uplift, she said.
There may be a family connection between the appeal of motion in Bolsey’s new show and the pioneer engineering work of her father, Jacques Bolsey, inventor of the Bolex motion-picture camera. Bolex cameras proved particularly important for early television news, nature films, documentaries, and avant-garde films, and are still favored by some animation filmmakers and film schools.
Carole Bolsey, who studied art in New York City and at academies in Florence and Geneva, and later taught at Harvard, is the subject of a book (“The Shape With No Name”) by distinguished American art critic Donald Kuspit, who likened her work to Monet’s, and wrote that it “recovers the state of reverie in which every appearance becomes an aesthetic hallucination.”
Globe art reviewer Cate McQuaid described her work as “grand painterly abstractions that use recognizable shapes to explore the phantasm of light.”
The joy of placing those “painterly abstractions” in space transfers to the act of creation, Bolsey said.
It is “impossible to feel earthbound while making these things happen on canvas and paper,” she said. “I feel lucky to get to do what I do.”