The thing which is not: two artists, two poems

Shauna Fahley, Ernesto Gutiérrez Moya

February 18 - April 6, 2024

Reception: Sunday, February 18, 2024

Absence begs questions about what is missing. Where are the people who lunched in Moya's gardens? What is a horse with no rider?

Selected Works

The thing which is not: two artists, two poems

“My poems are like a dagger
Sprouting flowers from the hilt;
My poetry is like a fountain
Sprinkling streams of coral water.”

“Mi verso es como un puñal
Que por el puño echa flor:
Mi verso es un surtidor
Que da un agua de coral.”

~ José Martí*

“ how the horse’s head,

to protect it in combat, would be fitted
with a shaffron, a strip of steel,
sometimes mixed with copper, all of it

hammer-worked, parts detailed
in gold.”
~ Carl Phillips*



Emerson Dorsch is pleased to present The thing which is not, an exhibition that brings together two artists and two poems. Recently naturalized as a US citizen, Cuban American painter Ernesto Gutiérrez Moya’s fountain and garden paintings surround North American sculptor Shauna Fahley’s ceramic nearly life-sized horses. References to two poems, “Si Ves un Monte de Espumas” by Cuba’s revolutionary-poet José Martí and “Defiance” by North American poet Carl Phillips are also in the gallery. We invite visitors to contemplate these poems while considering the artists in the exhibition. Two tiers of writing, this exhibition statement and a catalog-length essay, by curator Tyler Emerson-Dorsch will explore these emerging artists’ projects in more depth and the research that brought them together here.

Moya’s romantic and contemplative paintings allude to architectural details collected during his travels. They are mysteriously depopulated, making space, perhaps, for the artist. Fahley’s ceramic sculptures of split horses almost entirely omit a rider. It is in the omissions where Fahley and Gutiérrez begin to have common ground.

Two artists

Ernesto Gutiérrez Moya grew up and studied art in Havana, Cuba. His work reflects a more traditional painting education, noticeable in his fluency in paint handling, color, composition and a style that refer to Western art before the 20th century. When he moved to the United States seven years ago, he continued painting spaces shaped by architectural elements, as he had in Cuba, but, about five years ago, he began exploring his new landscape, especially gardens and, later, fountains. Focusing on these spaces and meditative objects were ways for him to make a place for himself in a new home and a new country.

Baroque stylistic details place Moya’s paintings in the company of dramatic and ornate colonial architecture. A great deal of which one can see in Habana Vieja, a veritable textbook of building styles, with centuries on view in a single plaza. Curator Emerson-Dorsch wrote: “Moya’s spaces – around the fountains, in gardens – can be dynamic, arrested in time, or literally on fire – pero, no hay nadie. There’s no one there.”

Shauna Fahley’s sculptures recall the athletic forms of horses in bronze equestrian monuments, a form popularized in Europe, from Ancient Rome through the heights of empire, to promote the mightiness of monarchs, saints and heroes. But Fahley’s horses come in pieces, and they don’t have riders.

Originally from Washington State, Fahley grew up riding horses. A passionate horsewoman, she represents the being and the relationship she loves. She does so in face of a challenge – how to approach a subject so tremendously burdened with romantic tropes and propaganda agendas.

Fahley is indignant that in equestrian sculptures the horses serve as mere pedestals to elevate and enhance their rider’s qualities. Hers are not bucolic representations of carefree steeds at pasture. She hand built these life-sized horses in clay, in positions that are decidedly artificial or broken. Their colors and glazing evoke bone, terracotta, marble and patinas – equines frozen in sculptural form through the ages.

From these observations, exhibition curator Tyler Emerson-Dorsch decided to let the adjacency of Moya’s paintings to Baroque frames inform their placement – they frame the sculptures in the exhibition. “I place what is in the center of plazas along the perimeter (the gallery walls), and baroque details echo those of frames from the same period. They are both making space and are spaces.” Moya’s paintings in turn frame Fahley’s horse sculptures. Those horses seem to have been salvaged from bronze equestrian sculptures in plazas around the world. In this way, they seize the place of those public sculptures in favor of a different vision.

Of course, it can be said that the paintings would naturally be on the walls, and the sculptures would naturally be on the floor. True, but the alignment to structural decisions is important to the conclusion of the research:

  • That Moya’s paintings focus on openings created by architecture, especially fountains, which often occupy the center of a particular kind of opening, a plaza or a clearing. In turn, Moya’s fountains echo architectural styles and create their own sort of space, physically and mentally.
  • That Fahley has observed that horses usually serve as pedestals of a sort for their riders. By removing the riders and turning or breaking the horses’ bodies to make riding impossible, the horses are emphatically no longer pedestals. Furthermore, Fahley omits pedestals in nearly all her sculptures, such that they rise up out of the floor, as clay creatures emerge from the earth.

Two poems

José Martí (1853–1895) was the spiritual leader and martyr for the Cuban people’s independence from Spain. He frequently conveys his conviction that his poems, “like a dagger,” could carry visions of simple beauties held in common with other Cubans in the service of the cause for his people’s freedom. Martí’s poem “If you’ve seen a mount of sea foam (Verse V),” repeats references to vivid language evoking similar shapes, like a fountain and a feather fan. Moya similarly uses repetition. In one painting water shoots in thin streams from a looming mass of stone with a curved top, alone and dominating the center of the painting. He repeats this composition, always with a fountain in the center, in each two-foot-tall painting.

The curator connects Moya to Martí and then Fahley by way of a bronze equestrian sculpture of the poet by American sculptor Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973). The larger-than-life-size sculpture stands high on a pedestal in New York’s Central Park. At the age of 82 Huntington presented this work to the Cuban government for them to give as a gift to the people of New York. Having something to do with the timing – it was 1959, the year of the Cuban revolution – the Cubans accepted this proposition and also financed the sculpture’s dark granite pedestal.

The equestrian sculpture of Martí is an example of the kind of sculpture Fahley is deconstructing. Though we can say that Martí is a hero, the horse in his story is merely a prop. A beautifully rendered one, a supporting actor, but innocent to human machinations. From there, the exercise of studying contrasts reveals a great deal. Fahley’s horses are more muscular, and they carry with them an air of the ancient. Clay with different glazes in glossy white with threads of coppery orange, in drips of deep red ochre, in vivid terracotta orange and, in one, a naked pale gray, each associated with an era where the horses were present, as they have been since the earliest traces of mankind.

Poet Carl Phillips (b. 1959 Everett, WA. Lives St. Louis, MO) has an extraordinary ability to string together imagery in a way that rapidly jumps between the present and the distant past, often that of Greek and Roman times.

The horse head in his poem “Defiance” was a passage I remembered from my preparations for Paula Wilson’s exhibition Be Wild. Bewilder in 2022. The title of her exhibition was a line from Phillips’s “Ghost Choir,” a poem from the same book as “Defiance.”

After compiling background on Fahley, especially the history and statistics of equestrian monuments and their Roman roots, that passage from “Defiance” and its martial aspects resonated with Fahley’s already-artifacts. The details of her development as a rider, from an outwardly imposed Western Pleasure style to dressage, a style which encourages a horse’s innate abilities, brought another connection to ancient Rome. The earliest and still used manual for training war horses was written by Xenophon, a mercenary general who was Socrates’s student. Though that book, called On Horsemanship, contains valuable insight into training using encouragement rather than force, Xenophon clearly considered horses chattel and assesses them part by part, from the bottom up.

On the one hand, after switching to dressage, Fahley recalls with wonder and joy how her horse transformed, putting on muscle and gaining weight. Horses who are proud of themselves strut. On the other, she critiques tendencies to reduce horses to a mere sum of parts, by cutting her representations of these gorgeous beings down to units herself, in a way that reeks of taking something back.

Phillips’s “Defiance” captures how love is held in containers – spaces. Love is something to cherish and defend, and sometimes that defense takes on martial characteristics. And yet, even then, we hope the defense is worth it. It is breathtaking how he brings the reader along as he layers images of war, love, rejection, dignity, deep and recent past, the future and tenderness. He ends it, gently holding his beloved’s scarred hands, while he marks the time. It was when the water lilies bloomed.

“And took his hand—the scarred one; I could
feel the scars…Little crowns. Mass
coronation. For by then all the lilies on the pond had opened.”
~ from “Defiance,” by Carl Phillips*

*Quotes are from the following poems:

José Martí, “Si Ves un Monte de Espumas (Verso V),” Versos Sencillos, translated by Anne Fountain. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, Inc: 2005. The original edition of Versos Sencillos was published about 1891.

Carl Phillips, “Defiance,” Pale Colors in a Tall Field, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020, p 50-51.


About the Artists

Ernesto Gutiérrez Moya (b. 1995 Havana, Cuba. Lives Miami, FL) graduated from the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts in Havana and later taught at the school for two years. His work has been exhibited in group shows in New York, Miami, and Havana and he has had solo shows in Miami and Havana. In the past year, he received a Miami-Dade Individual Artists (MIA) Grant, attended the Vermont Studio Center Residency, and attended the Whale & Star Summer Workshop with Enrique Martinez Celaya. Emerson Dorsch presented his paintings at NADA House in Governor’s Island and Untitled Art Fair in 2021, and at SWAB Barcelona in 2022. Publications include CdeCuba Art Magazine, DESTIG Magazine, and The Saatchi Gallery Magazine. Moya is represented by Emerson Dorsch.

Shauna Fahley (b Nov 14, 1994. Renton, WA. Lives Brooklyn, NY) has an MFA from Alfred University in Alfred, NY and a BFA from The University of Washington in Seattle, WA. She won many grants, scholarships and awards toward her university education. She has exhibited throughout the United States. Highlights include group shows at the Canton Museum of Art in Ohio and Young Sculptors Competition at Miami University in Oxford Ohio. She debuted the Sunder series at her MFA thesis exhibition at Alfred in 2021. She was Artist in Residence at the Sculpture Space in Long Island City, NY, The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT, and the PSZ Clay Center in Zanesville, OH. The thing which is not is her first exhibition in Florida.



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