One of the greatest interpreters of the horse in equestrian art, he was born in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1975. Through his works, the sculptor Hrvoje Dumančić expresses the fragile and delicate soul of horses. His is the story of a rider, a horseman who has a great deal to express in his works of art but also a lot to teach to the young who experience horses with a real passion.
“I have been connected with horses ever since I was a small child. I started to ride when I was seven years old. I was a bit introverted and the first time I visited the stables I just had a very good feeling about being close to horses.
Together with my family, we lived in Zagreb, and we had a small wooden house in the countryside where we spent weekends and our neighbour worked the land on horseback, almost 42 years ago, and when I saw this I was so enchanted that I asked my father if we could go to these stables where the horses lived. I often told my parents about this feeling of wanting to ride when I was seven or eight years old. I felt as if the power of horses had started to become my own power, that their legs started to be my legs, their courage started to be my courage and also that horses were very fast and I could be fast.
This equestrian centre was only 2 km from my home and every day after school I raced to this equestrian centre on my bike and when I sat on a horse, I remember how good it felt and then afterwards I would leave on my bike again feeling like a small child. Now I can tell young people, that I am 47 years old, but I feel very proud and happy because I lived in times when children spent a lot of time with horses. In my country, I now see families who bring their children to the equestrian centre; they only come by car; the children have all the right clothes and they just go to ride and when they are finished they go home. I remember that during my childhood I almost lived in the stables. We had lunch and dinner there and often slept there above the stables. I have so many wonderful memories of my equestrian life.
My first horse was bought when I was 16 and it was interesting because at that age I already created some small sculptures and sold them really cheaply because I was almost a child. I cannot imagine my life being different in any way, If I could choose I would do the same again and spend even more time with horses than I do now”.
“I first finished my education at a school for decorative art and design. The art and design school lasted four years and after that I decided to attend the Fine Arts Academy. I studied in Zagreb to become a sculptor and I remember creating horses while still studying. My professors sometimes told me ‘Maybe you could try and look at how your colleagues are creating something abstract’ but I said I ‘love this, I don’t know why but I’m happy when I’m doing this’. There was something inside that pushed me to create horses.
And it was funny because in Zagreb I was ashamed to hold an exhibition, so I decided to have my first exhibition in France, just because I thought no one knew me there. Exactly twenty years ago, I applied to Saumur for the International Exhibition with one of my favourite sculptures that I had created at the Academy; they accepted my work and then I won the first prize in the category for sculptures. I was totally surprised. I often like to say I was born in Zagreb, but my artistic birth took place in France in Saumur. And that marked the beginning. After that I actually did not think I would become a successful artist because I was portraying horses, but that was all right. And now I’m happy, because many people everywhere in the world now know me for my horses”.
Horses, my inspiration
“People very often ask me ‘Do you have any particular artist who inspired you?’ I think that life inspired me, but horses are 80% of my life and so horses are my inspiration. I think I learned a lot from horses, more than from human beings. And when you compare how horses treat each other and how they behave with us, they are the perfect teachers, because they don’t know how to lie, they are very honest. It is very nice to have a friend who is honest with you”.
The best natural teachers
“This is the best way there is for living your life. You do not need to change direction or behave as if placed in a river and go with the flow and not know what will happen.
I spend a lot of time with my horses and ride very often in the forest or surrounded by nature. I have now a young four-year-old mare and I’m happy because I was the first to ever ride her and teach her everything. She and her mother, who is now 22 years old, are really part of the family.
I respect the nature of horses and this is my philosophy. I want to be like a horse because I think that horses have both power and sensitivity in one body. They have the right balance, for both men and women should be the same. We are taught that men must only be strong, but men also can be sensitive and emotional and nowadays one sees a lot of strong women; but we forget that women who are sensitive can also be strong. Nothing is strictly one-sided“.
The material used for the sculptures
“I face a great challenge nowadays, because my generation of artists tries to be contemporary by using new materials in sculptures, but I instead consider them in the same way I’m connected with horses. I am connected with materials and for me the material used is very important. I respect natural material, I feel it as something that is alchemic.
When one tries using bronze, when you touch wood or ceramic, they all have their own energy”..
“My biggest dream now is to find some nice land, especially an old house as well as old stables to turn into a studio and build new stables for my horses and live with them, then I will be finally totally authentic. I also want to organise on this land my own workshops for children and people who generally are not connected with art. I am very proud of this because I’m trying to encourage people to be creative, because creativity is also food for the soul and for one’s health”.
Carefully bringing together art and nature, Hrvoje Dumančić has created a series of works entitled Horseland. Each piece renders the image of a horse, a key figure of Dumančić ‘s world. Horses are treated by Dumančić in a highly personal, even intimate way. Dumančić reveals what can be called the infinite soul of a horse, which is as sensitive and as fragile as a soul of a man. This personal philosophy lies behind each and every element of Horseland. •
This article is on Cavalli&Cavalieri January/February 2023: