A lone cowboy sits atop a hill overlooking the desert below. As he sits on his horse with his hat pulled down low, he watches the sun fall into the horizon and thinks about his day. There are no houses or cities in the distance. He has no companions with him. Man and horse sit alone in contemplation of the adventures ahead. Eric Bowman’s new body of work drops viewers into these quiet moments in the lives of American cowboys. “This is what I like best about the western genre,” Bowman says. “Hollywood has romanticized that vision of the cowboy, and I’ve always loved it.”
The artist presents 12 of his newest works in a solo show this month, titled Storybook Cowboy, at Maxwell Alexander Gallery. The show opens on Saturday, June 2, with an artist’s reception that evening. The early illustrators of the 1900s, who depicted the American West that soon grew into the expansive western genre of entertainment, influence Bowman’s style and subject matter. The artist is simultaneously paying homage to those artists while putting his own contemporary spin on the subject. To create his new pieces, Bowman worked with models and took photos of modern cowboys and ranch hands for reference. But he changes their clothing for a more historic feel in each piece. “It’s this fusion of contemporary working cowboys and the iconic images we associate with western heroes,” Bowman says. “Nothing would give you a sense of them being contemporary, but they’re still generic enough to belong to any era.”
Gallery director Beau Alexander says the work fits with the gallery’s overall aesthetic that combines old and new. “We respond to that contemporary edge, but Eric still has that masterful technique of someone who has been painting for a long time,” he says. “This show is an exclamation point in his career that will make people take notice of his skill. He won’t be flying under the radar much longer.”
While the artist recently began expanding his figurative oeuvre, his background in landscapes remains strong. “I still want the bulk of the scene to be comprised of the landscape, but these works meld the two genres together to make up that one romanticized, storybook scene,” he says. Nearly all of the pieces feature a solitary cowboy in the wilderness. There are no man-made structures to speak of in the hills around him. Bowman says the loneliness of that lifestyle is a key theme throughout the show. “It’s about the overall feeling you get when you see this cowboy alone, and what he might be feeling from his perspective,” Bowman says.
With most of the pieces set during sunrise or sunset, the artist plays with a unique juxtaposition between subject matter and lighting. “You can make this subject gritty and rough and hard, but with these colors, the cowboy becomes more restful and contemplative,” Bowman says. “With the time of day, the work signifies the end of an era when these men were revered and needed. But if a kid sees them, I want him to think of them as heroes, too.” —Mackenzie McCreary
For more work by Eric Bowman, click here.