Mian Situ prides himself on the variety of his interests in the Western world. “I like so many subjects,” he says. “Chinese-Americans, mountain men, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, historical scenes...I love all of it.” For his newest show, opening September 8 at Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Los Angeles, the accomplished painter will be laser focused on cowboys, the most iconic figures of the American West.
Situ, who’s originally from southern China, has been acquainted with the American cowboy nearly his whole life, even before he first lived in Canada and now the United States. “The cowboy was a legend even in China. We knew about them and were attracted to them, how they dressed, how they lived and how they acted,” the California-based painter says. “It was John Wayne really. And Tom Mix and all these actors that appeared on the posters. We didn’t see many of the movies, but we knew who they were from the magazines and the posters.”
The painter permanently settled in the United States in 1998, and since then he’s slowly absorbed the cowboy experience, including on location at ranches in the Southwest, as well as at rodeos where he’s seen roping and riding up close and at ferocious speeds and skill levels. The Maxwell Alexander show will feature Spring Time in the Rockies, which shows two riders roping a calf during a spring roundup as a majestic mountain range fills the background. In Ridge Riders, Situ paints two cowboys on a rocky butte with a vast mountainous background that seemingly envelopes the men in the landscape. While the new paintings often exemplify the cowboy experience, they also elevate another Western icon, the cowboy’s horse. “I want to show how important the horse was,” Situ adds. “They are magnificent animals, especially to paint.”
In Coffee at Dusk, a man prepares to call it a day as he sits next to a glowing campfire under fading light. The cowboy is certainly a central figure in the painting, but the horse commands more attention as it occupies more real estate and it leads the viewer deeper into the painting thanks to Situ’s stunning composition, which features an interesting diagonal posture of the horse as it stands on a slightly declining hill.
“For me, the challenge for that one was the color. Nighttime is such a romantic feeling that I wanted to capture it for the painting,” he says. “The lighting leads your eye in and lets you focus on the subject. The contrast also helps make the painting look more colorful. It’s interesting to play with light in these ways, but it’s difficult to capture with your models—the light is so hard to get right.”
Situ, whose works are in some of the most important Western collections in the country, recently won the coveted museum purchase award at the Prix de West in June. His show will be on view at Maxwell Alexander Gallery through September 29.