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Helpful horseplay: Painting Justin comes to Dixon’s rescue

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Adonna Combs hands a brush to her resident artist, Justin the Fresian horse, in her barn in 2011. Justin is not just any painting horse. He has sold several works and this weekend was a star attraction at a festival in Dixon, Ill.
Adonna Combs hands a brush to her resident artist, Justin the Fresian horse, in her barn in 2011. Justin is not just any painting horse. He has sold several works and this weekend was a star attraction at a festival in Dixon, Ill. FILE PHOTO

There's no question that the single-named Justin, not an uncommon name usage for artists, is an accomplished painter.

Earlier this year one of the Columbus-based artist’s works sold for $700 at a special exhibit at the American Saddlebred Museum, which is part of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

His techniques were studied by two other acclaimed artists from New York City and Los Angeles during a visit to his Columbus home.

But fame has not gone to his head.

Last weekend Justin put in a special appearance in Dixon, Ill., to help out the struggling town.

A lot of the world is pretty familiar with Dixon these days. It’s the town where an official allegedly stole several million dollars from various accounts in the city. The exact amounts are fuzzy. Some say $30 million was taken. Others think the total is upward of $50 million.

There is common agreement on one facet of this story. A lot of the money went into the woman’s horse farm.

Obviously, the loss of $30 to $50 million can put a dent in any city’s revenue stream. It also doesn’t help public images or community spirit.

Dixon’s leaders have decided to do something about the latter problem. They held a festival this past weekend to show some true community spirit. Needless to say they wanted a crowd-drawing attraction and the Mayor contacted Justin’s representative, Adonna Combs, to see if the Columbus artist would be willing to display his painting skills in front of a local museum called “The Last Picture Show.”

There’s a certain commonality in this story, especially the parts involving the sale of a work of art at a horse park, the appearance at a festival designed to take people’s minds off the use of several million of their dollars on someone’s horse farm and Justin.

Justin is a horse.

He’s not just any horse, of course. He’s a painting horse.

His art can best be described as abstract, although Adonna — herself a former professional artist and Justin’s owner in addition to being his agent — swears that one of his works bears a remarkable resemblance to a portrait of other horses.

“Several other people have said the same thing after looking at the piece,” she said.

As best anyone can tell, the 9-year-old horse has been painting for the last two of those years.

Prior to executing his first work of art Justin did the sort of things most horses did. He ate, slept and gave rides to Adonna.

It was in the Summer of 2010 that Adonna came upon a new facet of her steed.

“I noticed that when we would finish our ride and I would put my riding whip under my arm so that I could remove his reins, Justin would grab the whip in his teeth, bend over and draw patterns in the ground with the whip.”

After several repeats of this practice Adonna tried an experiment. She dipped a brush in paint, attached it to the riding whip and set up an easel in front of Justin. Sure enough, he started painting.

While admittedly unusual, this sort of human-like reaction from her animals is pretty routine for Adonna. Back in 2002, her pet dog was featured on the television show “Planets Funniest Animals” water skiing on nearby Grandview Lake.

Justin has taken his tendencies a bit farther. Word spreads pretty quickly when a horse is painting works of art. In the past two years Justin has had four exhibits and sold approximately 40 of his works.

That $700 he got at Lexington was not the biggest sum he’s received for his efforts. “A few of his pieces have sold for more than that,” Adonna said.

His career has been helped by publicity. He’s been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and he’s made an appearance on “Good Morning America,” the ABC morning television show.

Undoubtedly the Dixon appearance will only burnish his image and possibly increase the asking price for his paintings.

Right now, however, Adonna (who by the way has to pay the taxes on Justin’s earnings) is taking a simpler viewpoint of her horse’s talent.

“It’s just fun,” she said.

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