Clayton Porter (b. 1980) is a multimedia artist living and working in the American Southwest. He grew up on the front range of Colorado—exposed to cowboy culture early on by his father who was the heeler half of a two-man roping team. His family lived outside of Colorado Springs and kept a handful of various farm animals in addition to horses.
Porter’s early childhood was spent in the bosom of horse culture, sidestepping road apples, and playing atop alfalfa hay bales. Sadly this was short-lived when at the age of six his parents divorced, his mother relocating her two boys to the city. These nascent experiences would unexpectedly come to the fore in the artist’s visual lexicon—triggered by overlapping life events as an adult. The most impactful of these was the result of a messy long-distance affair Porter had with a married woman.
The tumultuous undertaking spanned over eight months, a period infused with tremendous emotional distress and elation. During this time he was also working for the artist Bruce Nauman. The backdrop of Nauman’s studio at his ranch outside of Galisteo would occasionally spawn discussions of horsemanship. In the spirit of the topic Nauman lent Porter a VHS tape featuring prominent horseman Bryan Neubert. In the video, Neubert leads a clinic demonstrating the initial steps in training a wild horse. Neubert accomplishes this by using body distance in a small arena—adding or reducing physical pressure on the animal—forcing the horse to pair bond with Neubert in lieu of another horse. This approach is in stark contrast to the explosive energy released during bronc riding, but in both scenarios, Porter observed a metaphorical kinship mirroring the unfolding events of his romantic entanglement.
Porter’s drawings are paradoxical. They’re both large and small—the images are unassuming in size, yet the pieces display bravado in their breadth of sprawling negative space. They are monochromatic—decoupling from reality—while meticulously rendered detail tethers them to the known. The scale demands close inspection, forcing the viewer to physically draw near to the paper’s surface. Using scale coupled with photorealism Porter engages the viewer’s body—echoing pair-bonding between horse and trainer. The flailing rider—whipsawed by the immense power of the horse—mimics the emotional swings Porter experienced during his affair.