When talent meets horse love

We had a great interview with talented equine inspired painter Kasia Bukowska. We’ve talked about her infinite love for horses, her passion for painting and her aspirations as an artist. 

Can we please get to know you? Who are you and what do you do?

I am a self-taught artist based in Poland and selling my work globally.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California where I went by Kashia Bukowski. When I decided to move to Poland, I embraced my Polish roots and started going by Kasia Bukowska (pronounced like Kasha Bukovska). Why did I leave sunny LA to go to Poland? I was set on furthering my riding career and financially, that wasn’t an option for me in California. So, I sold my two horses and bought my dream horse in Poland. I had seen him as a yearling and dreamed of owning him one day. I always thought it would be an amazing love story to to get him 15 or 20 years down the line. There was something that just took my breath away when I looked at this gorgeous grey named Sławny (pronounced, Suave-ny)! He has great bloodlines and was a jumping prospect. But great bloodlines doesn’t mean he was an easy horse to ride! His grandsire is Contender and Sławny has Calypso II and Ramiro Z further down his pedigree. Very impressive on paper, but boy was he a handful in the ring. Hence, he was put up for sale. I bought him never having ridden him, and once I was in Poland I took two to three lessons a week and competed once or twice a month.

Kasia and her gorgeous grey named Sławny

After about a year and a half, in 2014, my joints suddenly started swelling up a few days before my last show. Within one week I could not walk and was confined to a small room in a hospital. Doctors struggled to diagnose me and it took nearly six months to finally tell me what was causing me so much widespread pain and swelling, Systemic Lupus and Fibromyalgia.

This horse and my diagnosis are the reasons why I started to paint. I believe everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t be happier to have gone through the turmoil of my first Lupus SLE and Fibromyalgia flare. The first week of being diagnosed, I was utterly depressed. I was completely dependent on others for things I took for granted, like making myself breakfast, walking to the bathroom, or even sitting up in bed. I felt like a vegetable and I felt like a burden on others. Doctors told me I wouldn’t ride again and I kept thinking, “what kind of life is this? I can’t live without horses!” So I typed in “how to train a horse from a wheelchair.” After reading about and watching many inspirational stories on youtube, I realized how my negative attitude was getting me nowhere and actually worsening my condition. I was most inspired by Amberley Snyder’s story of how a car accident left her legs paralyzed but her ‘never give up’ attitude got her competing again!

I needed to get overcome the devastation that came from not being able to be the active person I was and not getting to see my horse (or any horse for the matter) for months on end. That is the point where my mom brought me a canvas, paintbrushes and acrylics to my bed and I started expressing myself though equine art.

Stencils always gave Kasia a way to paint with more precision

What’s your background? How did you start painting?

I have always been interested in art ever since I can remember. I loved drawing animals and dabbled in charcoal and spray paint in high school. Since I hated painting with a brush, stencils gave me a way to paint with more precision. It was about junior year in high school when I tested acrylics to help me overcome my perfectionism. I realized I took much longer to complete assignments than it took everyone else in school and yet, we still got the same grade. I also noticed their work wasn’t “perfect” and they still got 100%! It boggled my mind and decided I needed to do something about this obsession to have everything done perfectly. I barely slept and had no time for myself because I was too busy making everything as perfect as possible. If it wasn’t perfect, I felt like a complete failure. I knew I wasn’t, but I couldn’t help this overwhelming feeling dragging me down.

So I came up with a plan: to paint using acrylics because with acrylics, you can’t erase! This was a very difficult process for me but I wanted to prove to myself I wouldn’t die if I made a mistake. I probably looked like I lost my marbles as I cried, yelled, and painted abstract faces. But, this process helped me become more accepting of myself and my mistakes. After that, I started repeating ‘my art is a serious of mistakes’ in my head as I worked on any piece of artwork.

But I really started painting horses in 2014 after my diagnosis.

Paintings with heavy black tonality laying the emphasis on emotional struggle

I saw that your methods mostly remained the same but the mood of your paintings completely changed. Would you like to tell us what caused this change?

When I started to paint in bed, it started as a means of releasing the bitterness, resentment, and negativity I had bottled up inside. I was never good with words and telling my mom or friends about what I was going through didn’t help as much as expressing those emotions through color on a canvas. This was the first time a painted a horse using acrylics. In high school I occasionally did a combination of spray paint and acrylics, but never a whole horse painting using just acrylics.

Needless to say, all these emotions that brought me down slowly left my body through the strokes of my brush. I used dark and bold colors in combination with a rather dismal feel to the whole painting. Today, when I look back at my earlier pieces of work from 2014, I still see a glimmer of hope in the eyes of the horses. I feel it symbolized my hope of getting strong enough to one day get back on my horse, Sławny.

As I got physically stronger and started thinking about getting another horse, my childhood dream horse, my paintings started to use some more color, including browns, reds, and greens.

The healthier I got, the more progress I had in riding, and the more horses I bought (I have a total of four now), my paintings seemed to transform into very colorful, and sometimes rainbow, pieces. I express what I feel, and with accomplishing my goals, I feel ecstatic! Today, my working with my horses inspires me on a daily basis. When I seem them progressing and I feel our bond deepening, I am at my happiest.

The healthier I got, the more progress I had in riding, and the more horses I bought (I have a total of four now), my paintings seemed to transform into very colorful, and sometimes rainbow, pieces. I express what I feel, and with accomplishing my goals, I feel ecstatic! Today, my working with my horses inspires me on a daily basis. When I seem them progressing and I feel our bond deepening, I am at my happiest.

The use of saturated color background is defining the picture

How has your practice changed over time? Which techniques do you use?

I started with pencil drawings, then charcoal, spray paint, then acrylics. Right now my acrylic paintings seem to throw a lot of people off because they are positive it’s watercolor! I’m very generous in the amount of water I use and I love this effect. My signature drip which can be found in my artwork, stems from that dark time in my life where I thought I’d never feel a horse’s canter again. To be honest, it symbolizes all the tears I cried in overcoming my flares. The difference between my paintings then and what I do now is the colors and flow to my artwork are happier.

I’d also like to mention that I recently started finger painting! It’s much more time consuming that working with a brush, but it’s also a different sort of fun. I get a bit messy and really feel free to make as many ‘mistakes’ as I want! This type of artwork is more abstract, so I as I go I feel like a kid sticking my fingers in loads of paint and mixing it on the canvas. It’s a lot of fun and I plan do paint more using just my fingers!

How do you start a work, do you have any rituals?

The one thing that I love doing before I start painting is drinking coffee! I also put on whatever music I’m feeling which generally tends to be club remixes of the top 40’s. Sometimes I’ve done Instagram stories with the music I listen to playing in the background and people have messaged me saying they weren’t expecting that kind of music!

Occasionally I put my “high school playlist” on and listen to Depeche Mode, Led Zeppelin, The Cure.

Kasia is a coffee lover like most of us and she listens unexpected tunes while painting

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

Other than being inspired after working with my horses, I can talk about a more recent experience that made me glow. I was exhibiting my artwork at Cavaliada in Poznań, Poland in Decemeber 2017 when a girl came up to me and said she’s been dying to meet me for years. She asked if people came up to me in public places and said “Wow you’re that amazing artist!” It made me laugh because that hasn’t happened (yet!). She knew all about my story and even more about Sławny and Roxy! She is an aspiring artist and says she gains so much of her inspiration from my art. That was a moment that touched me deeply and gave me great motivation to paint! To know my work inspires other so much inspires me!

What’s your favorite artwork?

I am a sucker for graffiti. I understand that there are people out there who see it as vandalism, so when I tried my hand at spray paint and stencils, I always did it on canvas. I love the style and statements of urban art.

Kasia recovered from a serious illness by going back to riding despite what the doctors said

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

Before being an artist, my main job was working as a camp counselor and horseback riding trainer at the LA Children’s Riding Center in Sunland, California. I gave lessons to children and even some adults. I also worked at some other barns taking care of people’s horses, helping train young horses, and being a trail guide. I had some other little jobs like working at a bakery and tack shop. I generally worked 60-70 hours a week and took two night classes at Pasadena City College. College was taking forever and I couldn’t afford a competition horse, nor did I have the time to ride much at all. That’s when Poland’s allure charmed me into moving close to 6,000 miles away from home! Horses and competing?! Yes, please!

Painting is both emotionally and financially satisfactory for the artist

Do you make a living off your art?

Yes, I do! And it covers the cost of my four gorgeous horsies and three beautiful kitties! Not to mention my own living expenses. I’ve also built a four-horse barn with profits from my paintings and am setting money aside to build a house and a bigger barn! I never thought I could afford horses being an artist. As you’ve gotten to know earlier on in this interview, I cannot live without horses! So in high school I thought studying art and going to art school was not an option for me. I wanted to study to become an equine vet to make enough money to afford what makes me happy: horses!   

How long you’ve been riding? Which discipline do you ride?

I started taking lessons when I was 9 years old, or about 18 years! I rode English and started competing in hunter and eq classes at the age of about thirteen.

After I had a serious riding accident in high school, mparents forbid me from getting back on my horse again. That’s when tried this amazing jumper, Diva, who introduced me to the world of jumpers and showed me just how fun this type of jumping is!

Today I mostly just do pleasure riding and actually ride bareback most of the time, but have hopes of competing in some little shows one day. It’s not a priority for me, but it’s something I’d love to do. I would like to compete Sławny in some littler jumpers class (.80m-1m) and Roxy in some schooling dressage show. I would also like to compete both in some bridle-less natural horsemanship shows!   

Tell us about your horses. Which one influences you the most? Which one you like painting more?

I could probably write a book on my horses because I have so much to say about all of them! I paint Sławny the most, Lulu the second most, and Roxy comes after that. I haven’t painted Lilly (yet!).

During my flare, I felt like I didn’t know how much time I had to accomplish my dreams before I kicked the bucket. After researching Lupus patients and comparing my state to theirs, I felt I needed to get on with my bucket list! So, I was set on getting my dream shire! It took me nearly a year to find ‘the one,’ but when I came across a 4-month-old grey Shire filly I knew she was perfect. At first I asked both my parents for financial help, but when they kept parroting, “You’re not strong enough! What are you going to do with two horses? Wait until you feel better and have your own barn! It’s too expensive to keep two horses in the city, wait until you move to the countryside!” They didn’t understand, so I went ahead and used my savings to get her. I thought I needed to use my saving while I still could! So Lilly, and the next two horses I bought, were kept a secret from both my parents for over a year.

Lilly was imported to Poland from the UK nearly six months after I purchased her. During the time I waited for my little filly, I decided I should get another, older shire that I could start training right off the bat. I thought, IF I happen to come across a shire four to six years old that has zero training, a mare, and within my budget, I would get her. Within a few weeks I already organized transport from the UK for a four-year old bay shire mare, Roxy. She the most important horse in my recovery because I worked with her three to five times a week. She got me out of bed and moving on mornings I just wanted to lay in bed and give up. Once I got to the barn and saw her, it was worth the morning struggle and I couldn’t stop smiling. She was just so gorgeous and amazing! It took some time for her and I to develop trust but once our relationship started to blossom, so did her training. She was so eager to learn and seemed so excited to see me every single time I came to the barn. She even recognized the sound of my Dodge Charger and would canter over to the corner of her paddock to watch me pull into the barn! It’s a feeling I can’t describe in words, but I’m sure you can see it in my paintings!

While bedridden I had watched a lot of natural horsemanship videos, something I had never been exposed to before. Roxy was sort of my guinea pig. Everything I know, I learned off of Youtube. That may sound silly to trainers out there, but I’ve gain more headway with Sławny in jumping within one year than the one year I competed on him. My relationship with my horses have deepen immensely through our work on the ground and in the saddle.

After having Roxy and at a barn near me, Sławny on vaca being the alpha of a 35-horse herd, and Lilly on the way, I came across a stunning yearling buckskin on a British horse sales website. She reminded me of Diva, my horse in high school that changed how I thought about jumpers and won me more blue ribbons than I can count. When I saw an eight-second video of her trot, I knew I had to have her! She came about two months after Roxy and was stabled with Sławny.

Lulu is one of the most inspiring horses for Kasia. And she loves the new technique, finger painting

Lulu is the most energetic, extroverted, lively, and destructive of my bunch. She is highly sensitive and sometimes she does things and I don’t even realize what I’m doing with my body to get her to move like she does! She’s one to teach me about body awareness and that it’s important to laugh, and love! She needs attention, love, and cuddles 24/7. If she sees me with my other horses, she will try to get my attention, even if that means half jumping into, half charging through the gate of the round pen I’m working with Sławny in… Luckily, that only happened once! If I don’t keep her mind entertained and don’t work with her, she starts fights with the other horses or just jumps out of her paddock. Once destroyed close to 50% of all the fencing on my property and decided to strut her stuff around town, causing traffic for miles (thankfully she was not injured). My husband and I decided to make TWO fences, one 1.30m one meter apart from a second 1.60m fence, both electric fencing. Well, that was no biggie for miss Akhal-Teke/ Irish Sports Horse cross… She cantered right around and hoped over it because the grass was literally greener on the other side. She is a handful and definitely keeps my life interesting, to say the least!

Who’s your favorite living artist?

I was most inspired by Bansky as a teen and to this day I love skimming through Banksy’s street art online.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I’ve had two types, supportive responses and demeaning ones.

I’ll start with the absolute best response, which was from a girl about my age who received a portrait of her horse from her mom. She was struggling with an illness and went though a very rough surgery. The painting was meant to be a surprise but her mom showed her a picture of it after she came out of surgery, before the canvas arrived in the mail. Her mom said she couldn’t wait because she needed something to make her daughter happy. This girl was so thrilled and so thankful, her mom helped record while she said a few words on camera to thank me. No one has ever done that for me before! Her mom sent me this video and it was just so touching! It made me cry knowing that I was able to make this girl’s day, or even month for that matter! I completely related to her in that she was too sick to even go see her horse. I knew it would mean a lot to her!

Another response, but negative one, was when I was exhibiting my artwork at an international horse competition in Poznań, Poland. One girl came up to my stand, laughed, and asked me if I was drunk when I painted.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is to paint a very large piece, something about 300x500cm. So far the biggest painting I’ve done is 120x120cm.

What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?

Freshman year in high school, my art teacher recommended I take a summer school art class to learn how to use something more than pencil. I remember getting frustrated when I had to draw these pots and vases that they told me to draw. I HATED it. Absoluted despised it. I asked to draw animals but they said I had to follow what was in the work book. Anyways, in all my frustrations, I felt ready to just walk out of class. My teacher said something to me to calm me down and it just stuck with me. It went something like this, “your art is supposed to look like this at this point in time. There is nothing wrong with it, it is in its developing stages and this is exactly where you’re supposed to be at this stage.”

Painting and horses are therapeutic for the artist

Is there anything you would like to add?

To anyone struggling with a choric illness or disease, try not to lose yourself in depression. Find something to get your mind off what’s bothering you and cling to what makes you happy. For me, that was horses. There were a lot of baby steps I had to take before even thinking about leading my horse, but it was possible in my case.  

In regards to my overcoming my flare, I feel like I did everything I could. Doctors recommended slow exercise, like yoga and meditation. Painting was a great exercise for me before I even got enough strength to go to a yoga class. My hands were in the worst condition so holding a paintbrush was a challenge. My doctors urged me to move my fingers and exercise my hands as much as possible otherwise my tendons would shrink and I wouldn’t be able to make a fist.

 I loathed yoga, but it was the only full body exercise I could sort of do at the time. After I became strong enough I added in Pilates, and eventually Zumba, cross fit and Nike training club classes. I exercised on a daily basis, changed my diet completely (which made me cry at first because I love Captain Crunch and Reese’s peanut butter cups!), went to physical therapy, tried herbal teas, acupuncture, and went to the dreaded chiropractor! I also had weekly Thai massages for my muscles. My weeks were packed full of activities and therapies for my joints. But the best therapy, in my opinion, was just being with my horses. They put my mind at ease right when I saw them. They are also the reason I was so motivated to get better in the first place! 

 And to aspiring artists out there, don’t get discouraged when negative neds tell you your artwork isn’t worth a dime, that you’ll never make a living, or that a six-year-old could paint better than you! I’ve had all those things said to me, and more! Theres is a scene in Girlboss on Netflix that really helped me not take those comments personally. In this scene, Sophia prints all the negative comments people posted about her and she sat there feeling like a failure. Her best friend rips the papers from her and tells her if there are so many haters out there, that must mean she’s doing something right! So now when I see hateful comments on Facebook, I think to myself, I’m a true artist whose doing something right! Another quote I love is by Lucian Freud, “The task of an artist is to make the human being uncomfortable.” So go out there and make people feel things through your artwork! 

You can follow Kasia on Instagram

2 Comments

  • I spent a great deal of time to find something similar to this

  • Thanks, it is quite informative

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