Thomas Allen Pauly’s love for painting subjects of Thoroughbred racing was developed somewhat like the intricate portraits he produces from his Chicago-area studio: layer by layer.
Pauly found from an early age that he could translate art from photographs, and the second medium eventually became another passion. As a photographer shooting for such publications as Illinois Racing News, Pauly not only gained access to top horses and jockeys at Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but also at such international events as Royal Ascot, the Arc de Triomphe, Hong Kong Cup, and Dubai World Cup, among others.
“My eye as an artist has taught me to be a good photographer,” said Pauly, who turned 49 earlier this year. “And as I go along, doing race pictures are a lot of fun.”
But Pauly’s primary focus is on his paintings -- even more so since retiring in February following a 30-year career as a repairman for AT&T.
“Every day was like a struggle, because it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said. “When I would come home after working eight hours, I would go to my studio to paint, sometimes until 2 a.m.”
But his workaday job was not without at least one highlight as it relates to his artistic pursuits. Pauly said he had been trying to sell a portrait of grade I winner Stevie Wonderboy to the horse's owner, entertainment mogul Merv Griffin, when he finally received a call closing the deal.
“I remember I was up in the ceiling running this wire at the (Chicago) Board of Trade,” he said. “It was a god-awful day, everything was going wrong. And then I got this call from Merv Griffin’s office and they ended up buying the painting. It was very surreal to have my head stuck in this drop ceiling and talking to Merv Griffin’s office.”
Pauly has no idea how many pieces of artwork he has produced, but he clearly remembers certain milestone productions. There was the caricature of President Richard Nixon he did in fifth grade that initially sparked his interest in art, a piece modeled after a similar effort of legendary cartoonist Mort Drucker of “MAD Magazine” fame.
Then in 1978, he sold his first piece of artwork – a drawing of a harness racehorse named Rusty Win, who was owned by the father of one of Pauly’s friends. Pauly and others had gone to a race at old Sportsman’s Park, and when Rusty Win posted a victory, the burgeoning artist ended up in the winner’s circle. It was Pauly’s first time at a horse race.
“And when I got an 8-by-10 (photograph), I was so moved by the situation I decided to do a drawing of the horse,” said Pauly, who sold the drawing to his friend’s father.
From there, demand for his efforts only grew. In 1989, he completed a still-existing caricature montage for Arlington Park, which is located on the third floor near the press box. In 1990, he was commissioned to paint 1989 Illinois Horse of Year Western Playboy, and the resulting portrait was given to the owners as a trophy. Since that time, each owner of an Illinois HOY has been awarded a Pauly trophy portrait.
Pauly was also one of 11 international artists commissioned a few years ago to produce portraits of all the Dubai World Cup winners. His portrait of ‘96 winner Cigar in 2007 fetched $50,000 at the Dubai World Cup Art Auction and Exhibition.
“That one really stands out,” Pauly said.
Another of his favorite portraits is of Charismatic, who won the 1999 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). “It was my first Derby, and he was a great looking horse,” said Pauly, who keeps that portrait in his studio.
The artist works in a 500-square foot loft studio filled with racing silks, saddles, saddle cloths, and bridles. “I have a lot of showings there,” he said. Many of Pauly’s portraits are done in oil, using a layering technique of glaze and paint he said is akin to how the “Old Masters” painted. Examples of his work can be viewed on his Web site at www.horseartist.com.
Pauly was also commissioned by Churchill Downs as the official portrait artist of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, which is best remembered as the crowning victory of the ill-fated Barbaro. Pauly produced the portrait within four or five days after the Derby so that it could be given away on the track’s fan appreciation day, which was held after Barbaro was injured in the Preakness.
“(Churchill officials) were debating on whether to give it away, but he started to get better, so they said let’s do it,” Pauly said of the heavily-publicized rehabilitation effort given Barbaro. “People were lined up the parking lot waiting to get the poster. They were real appreciative.”
One of Pauly’s favorite subjects is jockeys, and his portfolio includes portraits of many of the all-time greats. “I enjoy doing portraits of jockeys right before they get up on the horse, or when the jockey is up on the horse, showing the withers of the horse and the neck,” he said.
Pauly has hooked up with noted turf writer Victor Zast to produce a book about international horse racing. “I’m going to do 36 paintings – places, people, racetracks, and the horses involved with it,” he said.