The Making of "Horse Whispers" by Johny Dar: The World's First Horse Painted Artistically
Always determined to take on the next challenge and break through his own limitations to achieve a new groundbreaking vision, Johny decided to apply his body art to an animal. The concept for Horse Whispers was inspired by his natural love for horses and previous body art project, ‘Tuuli by Dar’, which featured one female model painted in twelve styles, photographed by Rankin. Ignited by this experience, and fuelled by Johny’s enduring passion for originality, the Horse Whispers vision took form.
For Johny, applying his body art technique to horses would allow him to explore a new and cherished live medium, and to celebrate the beauty of the horse through his art. But first he had to find his perfect partner and the key to realising his dream - a horse that was dynamic, receptive and trusting enough to embrace the process with him.
Johny was clear that he would paint a stallion, despite protests and warnings against the idea from the horse owners and breeders, due to the perceived danger involved. Despite this, he retained his belief that the project could be realised peacefully and harmoniously, for both horse and humans. Painting and photographing a stallion involved the constant risk that the horse would lose patience, become irritated or upset, and kick or bite him or a member of the team, but Johny was convinced that no injuries would be sustained, either to the horse or those working with him.
Eventually, Johny found the horse he was looking for. Named ‘Bader’ after the moon, this Arabian stallion met Johny’s gaze and responded to his touch in a way that let him know a life-long friendship was in the making. Not only that, but Johny instinctively felt Bader was up to the challenge and ready to take it on. By now his vision had crystallised, and he shared it with Bader in his mind’s eye, while Bader licked his hands and nuzzled against him, occasionally stamping his foot and tossing his mane as if excited to get started. He would paint and photograph Bader in 12 different looks, each one expressing a different element of his personality and distinct ‘whisper’ of inspiration. With the images they would create together, a new perspective upon the animal kingdom could be shared with the world, honouring the invisible threads between horse and human, and delivering a vision of faith and inspiration expressed through the body and beauty of the horse.
Leading up to the first shoot, Johny spent the days getting to know Bader, human to horse, savouring the moments they had together before painting sessions began. In Bader’s nobility, gentleness and wild spirit he discovered not only a source of inspiration for their work ahead, but a reminder of why, throughout history, humanity has found strength, solace and solidarity through relationships with these beautiful creatures. As Johny and Bader roamed the sands of time and the desert, they grew increasingly familiar with communicating in a language beyond words, exploring and embracing the space between horse and human, as they prepared for their unprecedented adventure.
Originally inspired to shoot in the wilderness of the desert landscape and capture the images in nature, Johny soon encountered the practical challenges of painting among the dunes, and as conditions did not allow for sessions to take place there, decided not to push things further. A studio was booked, with plenty of room for Bader to walk around and stretch his legs when he needed to, and a large set where he could be photographed in motion, as well as standing still. Paint was sourced in large quantities, carefully chosen and formulated for human skin, ensuring that it would cause no harm to Bader during or after the project.
During his time in the studio, Bader was not subjected to any medical supplements, but instead plied with apples, carrots and plenty of love. Initially confused by his new surroundings, Bader quickly settled in, and came to embrace the hands and hearts around him. While Johny painted each pattern, others joined in to fill the spaces between his lines with the colours he chose. To begin with, Bader’s reaction to the paintbrush was instinctively to swipe it away with his mane or tail, due to the sensation it created which was similar to that of a intruding fly. But he soon came to embrace the feeling of the paintbrush strokes, and to relax as paint-covered hands massaged his sides.
Once most of Bader’s body was covered in paint, Johny turned his attention to the most challenging part of the process and the most sensitive area for Bader - his face. By this stage, however, Bader was enjoying himself. His initial resistance softened as more carrots and apples were held to his mouth, but even tasty treats did not compare to the wondrous stillness that came over him when his head was held between two loving hands, and he melted into Johny’s gentle humming sounds while the paintbrush moved like magic above his eyes, and over his nose. Then Bader’s eyes closed, as if sleeping or in a deeply mediative state, until the process was complete, when he paraded proudly around the studio exploring his transformed state, completely at ease with being photographed.
The success of the first shoot helped break everyone’s expectations of what was possible and set the crew at ease, especially Bader, who Johny continued to train to be as patient and focused as himself. As the process went on their connection and communication deepened and the creative dynamic between horse and human evolved. Throughout the shoots that followed their mutual demonstration of peace, poise, humour, happiness, and a profound depth of understanding astounded every human onset. Captured in the images created, Bader’s Horse Whispers continue to captivate audiences around the world.
Twelve images captured during this remarkable journey were crafted into the Horse Whispers series, and produced as a limited-edition series of prints, as well as an every-year calendar. Through Johny Dar’s unprecedented techniques and relationship to his subject, each image successfully captures an aspect of Bader’s personality, and delivers its own distinct whisper of inspiration. Horse Whispers has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Beijing, and in Berlin and London, as a groundbreaking collection of expressions in body art. The series has been featured in Harper's Bazaar Art, GEO, Madame, Der Spiegel, Schoen! Magazine, Elucid Magazine, Superior Magazine, Equistyle, Flair and many more.
Horse Whispers remains a timeless and captivating expression of art and nature, a touching story of collaboration, innovation and dedication, and a special friendship that blossomed in between.
With special thanks to Bader, for sharing the journey.