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Why Painted Ponies are the Gateway Drug to my Art and the Bottom of my Heart: Take 1


Painted Ponies are the gateway drug to art because when you ride into a new town and you are not exactly socially awkward, but not exactly mainstream, a pony drawing is a contract that says you come in peace.

Painted Ponies are the gateway drug to art because they can grant you access to the real deal, like real ponies. A pony drawing can be an IUO. IOU a ponyride, f.ex.


In Musee d’Orsay in Paris hangs a painting of one single asparagus. Manet painted it to settle a score with his collector Charles Ephrussi who had already acquired a painting of a bunch of asparagus for 800 Francs, but instead sent 1000. Manet replied with the painting in lieu of an IOU. IOU an asparagus.

Not his Olympia, by a long shot, but painted with the same muscle memory, the same cocky self-assuredness. Its white flesh blends with the marbled tabletop smooth like butter; its head lifted with a perkiness that is dare we say phallic?  You would assume Manet to bequite indifferent to this vegetable; it is simply something to paint – an etude with an attitude. Yet from the way it is rendered, it appears as if asparagus, at that point in time,was to Manet,what the origin of the world was to Courbet. Not sublimation but sublime. The real thing.

So it is with ponies to the young girl, who’s love for ponies is no substitute for the real thing, but the thing itself.

Painted ponies are the gateway drug to art because they are the real thing, and even better than the real thing, child.



















When I was seven my uncle gave me a box of oil paints for Christmas; leaden tubes with a double horse profile on the label. Cheap ones with generic names like “dark yellow” and “bright yellow,” but the smell of turpentine was enticing. Intoxicating. My dad gave me some Masonite board to paint on and I set up shop in the basement, behind the half wall separating the oil furnace from the wood shop. It was kind of like a pigpen, where the oil tank nestled like a giant hog; my easel and I squeezed in next to it. My first painting was of three ponies in a field:  a filly drinking milk from a mare and a stallion on the hilltop behind them. When asked for critical feedback, my mom told me she preferred that other painting, by a real artist,of a very tiny fishing boat braving a stormy seascape.  The ab-ex sea foam looked like a white pony drowning in a frothy pool of wine dark paint. When my sister asked: “Why is Lise crying?” My dad answered: “She is crying because she is a misunderstood artist.”


Painted ponies are the gateway drug to art, because they are the real thing, and spur you on, toward the real thing.


In Holland, where I became a painter – the real thing – there is a tradition of painting objects of desire.  Opulent allegories for a pious life: a soap bubble, vanity; a scull, memento mori; a horse’s bridle, temper temper. The“Golden Era” peaked with the rise of a mercenary class who lived by the adage: If you got it flaunt it! What better way to flaunt your fleeting riches than immortalized in oil paint on canvas?

If these paintings are covetable, sometimes you need the real thing; although Rembrandt was one of the most admired painters of his day, he squandered his fortune on peacock feathers and tulips to the point of bankruptcy and foreclosure. Tulip Mania crazed citizens from aristocracy to plebs, to take out options against flower bulbs prized like Amsterdam mansions; The Bulb Bubble is deemed the world’s first Wall Street crack.

In Holland, Droste cocoa powder – one of many colonial wares on which the Dutch East India Company built their fortune as the first multinational listed on the stock exchange –still comes in a package designed in 1904. On the box you see a lithograph of a nurse, holding a tray, with on it a box of cocoa powder with on it an image of a nurse, holding a tray, with on it a box of cocoa powder, with on it an image of a nurse etc. etc. The eponymous “Droste effect” denotes the way the image telescopes– your mind’s eye caught between parallel mirrors –into infinity.





















Painted Ponies are the gateway drug to art because they are not a substitute for the real thing –they are the real thing, and the affirmation of the real thing’s desirability. Just like young girl’s real love of real ponies is no substitute for the real thing, but the real thing. Just like a text about a painted pony is neither a substitute for the painting, nor a substitute for the pony, but the real thing.


If there is a feminist lesson to be gleaned from all this, it could be: If women and girls ruled the world, there would be a lot more painted ponies in circulation, and they would fetch way better prices. Or: If women and girls ruled the world, and not just Prince’s world, we might understand, for real, that its not our age, mama, not our shoe size, that dictates if we can do the twirl. We might look away from the mirror; we might take our eyes of the prize,and let our female gaze dart around the world.


Painted Ponies are the gateway drug to art because a painting of a pony channels your desires in a way that is neither ridiculous nor sublime. A painted pony captures the desired object in a way it is impossible to capture any actual living being: immobilized and idealized.


Why Painted Ponies are the Gateway Drug to my Art and the Bottom of my Heart: Take 2


Why Painted Ponies are the Gateway Drug to Art
and the Bottom of my Heart: Take 2: 

Painted Ponies are the gateway drug to art school when you ride into a new town and you are not exactly socially awkward and not exactly mainstream either, or not exactly mainstream as defined on these new main streets. You lock your bike when you park it outside, betraying you are from the city where you steal each other’s bikes and not from this provincial El Dorado where the streets are paved with gold and the girls play handball in the new hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you suck at handball and all you want is a pony because that was the big idea of moving here in the first place,or your big idea anyway. A pony drawing is a way of holding on to that dream, that idea of greatness, of a greatness that fits in, an IOU to be exchanged for friendship and pony rides out on a field on the edge of town behind factories with a couple of fences to clear and only a bike ride away. Those girls you don’t remember, but her name was B and she was pretty in a spotty way. She taught you how to apply eyeliner on the wet bit inside the lashes, and she told you that’s a good lookfor you with your almond shaped eyes. She was nice to you, but those girls were often mean to her. Sometimes you would be mean too just to fit into these new mean streets now you walk down, this provincial town you jog round.

At the pony club, one girl had a severe fall. She broke her neck and became paralyzed from the neck down. Her mom, who was also a therapist and gave riding lessons to paraplegics, trained her to walk again. She literally resurrected her daughter by the same pony she had fallen from. “It wasn’t his fault,” she said of the pony,  “I trust him.”

Today I gave my therapist a gift. A bag of salty licorice courtesy of my mother, from across the salten sea. Then we talked about dying alone. He told me about sitting next to his mother’s deathbed, in hospice, as she was drifting in and out of consciousness, her breath getting shallower, then heavier, then shallower again, like she was there, then not, present, then absent, then. “…It’s interesting,” he said. “Do you know ‘interesting’ is the ‘fuck you’ of the art world?” I asked, rhetorically. It came out harder than I meant, because what I meant to say was this “tell me more. Please tell me more about your mother.”

Why Painted Ponies are the Gateway Drug to Art and the Bottom of my Heart was written and read for the occasion of We’ll Just Call It Horse Therapy Or Whatever at Goldfinch Gallery in Chicago, June 16, 2018, coinciding with the exhibition I Am the Horse: Iris Bernblum and Lise Haller Baggesen.


Install images throughout courtesy of Goldfinch Gallery.

Thank you Iris, Claudine and Elizabeth for making the magic happen.

You can read Elizabeth Lalley’s brilliant curatorial essay here:

and read Matt Morris’ thoughtful analysis of the exhibition here:

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