By Michael Clawson
In the final moments of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jimmy Stewart’s noble politician, Ransom Stoddard, has just spilled the beans about who actually shot the outlaw thus revealing his entire career was held together by a myth. The newspaper reporter who’s listening to this confession eventually stands up, tears his notes to pieces and turns to Stoddard, who asks if he’s going to print the story. “No, sir,” the reporter says. “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Mark Maggiori isn’t in a John Ford movie, but he’s certainly capturing legendary Western figures in his new works, which show cowboys amid the hum of their daily lives on horseback out on the range, riding through the grassy plains and clambering up rocky desert hills. Like Ford, who was drawn to the epic vistas and towering rock chimneys of Monument Valley, Maggiori paints his figures within slightly exaggerated yet still iconic scenery, from towering snow-capped mountains to cloudbursts that soar over desert floors. Ford liked to show big scenes, and then fill them with small figures, to heighten the size and space of the West, but Maggiori gives his legends equal footing to the landscape, offering them larger-than-life presence in his scenes. They loom so large in the foreground, they become monuments themselves.
“My first attraction to painting was the cowboy figure, even more than the landscape. The landscapes were beautiful, but it was the cowboy that pulled me in. I was inspired by every image I saw. Every time I saw a cowboy on a horse it was really amazing for me to see,” Maggiori says from his Los Angeles studio. “Even today I will shoot references and sketch and the whole time in my head I’m thinking about what this cowboy’s story is, and how I can transform it into a painting.”
Maggiori’s new show opens December 9 at Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Los Angeles. The title of the show is Lonesome Souls, an idea the artist has been toying with for several months. “It was on my mind. I was looking for something that fit the subject matter and also fit me personally, including where I’m at now,” he says. “Every artist could use that title because we spend so much time on our own, so much that we have to feed ourselves from the inside, feed ourselves because it’s a lonely journey. I was following some cowboys up north and I kept finding myself disconnected from everything, in places where there was no reception. You start reading about old cowboy stories and you realize how solitary their lives were. It was a lonely life, but they kept doing it.”
The artist might feel like one of his lonesome cowboys, but his career is surging forward at an impressive pace as he gains new collectors, fans and awards—he was most recently awarded the Sam Houston Award for Painting at the 2017 Night of Artists show at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Maggiori is originally from France, where he had a successful first career as a photographer, filmmaker and musician; his metal band Pleymo is reuniting next year and touring across France. When he came to the United States, where he originally lived in out-of-the-way places in Arizona, Maggiori quickly found his footing in a wide variety of interests, including photography, vintage clothing and, of course, painting. He rose quickly through the ranks, and in a period of about two years he has landed exhibition space at major shows at the Autry Museum of the American West, the Briscoe Western Art Museum and the Eiteljorg Museum, not to mention solo and groups shows around the country. In September he had his first piece come to auction at the Jackson Hole Art Auction, a stunning action scene with Remington-like riders dashing for the timber that sold over its $20,000 estimate for $23,400.
For his new work Maggiori really wanted to focus on stories, and he’s been leaning toward more historic narratives. “I love this idea that cowboys are doing things the way they were a long time ago, the way they used to be decades ago. There is some modernity happening, and they’re certainly using modern tools where they can, but these guys are really sticking to the historic aspect of cowboying,” he says. “They do it because they love it, and it’s their passion.”
And while he focuses on historically accurate cowboys, they could also be modern. He adds, “I don’t like to think my paintings have a time period. They just don’t belong to a time. In France we would say intemporel, which means timeless.”
In A Long Day on the Range, he paints a cowboy leaning forward on his saddle, a posture that might indicate utter exhaustion or just deep contemplation. Behind the horse and rider is a breathtaking mountain range that unfurls like a magnificent tapestry fluttering in the cool breeze. “When you paint plein air you find yourself far from the world you’re living in, far from the social media, that washing machine that we’re all trapped in. The only way to get away from all that is to go out in the wilderness,” he says, referring again to that disconnect nature provides. “I really admire the old photos, the ones of cowboys from 1900 and earlier. They just had the scenery, the clouds and sagebrush. They make me dream of a time when there was just you and the land around you, not you and the rest of the world in your pocket. I appreciate the technology, but I have some nostalgia for a time when there was more mystery between human beings.”
In Altitude shows a cowboy riding over a ridge. The perspective suggests the horse and rider are as immense as the scenery itself. A similar scene transpires in High Noon in Arizona, in which three riders seem like giants stepping down into a miniature valley. In Symbiosis, it’s the clouds, tinted a deep orange and red, that loom large over the figure and his white horse, which glows warmly in the fading light. “The role of any artist is to take something that is out there and show it in a way that makes people stop and look about, and think about it,” he says. “Georgia O’Keeffe said that people weren’t looking at flowers, so she decided to paint them in a way that would make people look again.”
And people are looking again at things thanks to his works. “I guess I’m a cloud guy because people send me pictures of their clouds all the time, and from all around the world,” he adds.
For some of his new works, he’s been focusing on different kinds of light, whether that is different times of days or different angles of light. In Living on the Edge, for instance, he captures daylight illuminating puffs of dust at the feet of two galloping horses as they traverse a bushy hillside.
“My career has not been very long yet, so I can still experiment with things, which is nice for me. I can have a vision and test it out to see if I like it,” he says. “It allows me to try and be different. To do some tricks. I had 15 years of experience as a music video director, so I got to experiment with color in the camera. So now when I paint I like to try and make the scenes look cinematic, like a movie. Like candy for the eyes.”
Another thing he’s experimenting with is his speed with the brush. A friend of his, whose been filming him for a project, challenged him to paint as fast as he could. One of the first pieces came in just under eight hours. It forced him to paint loose and, obviously, with expediency. Additionally, he’s been trying out some new subject matters, including more dramatic nocturnes and, in the case of Up to No Good, villains. The painting shows a young cowboy riding quietly into town with his pistol drawn. He looks over his shoulder to make sure no one is following him, or that there are no witnesses for what is about to transpire. An illuminated window in the back reveals silhouettes in the local saloon. It’s a scene John Ford, who devoted as much time to outlaws as he did heroes, would have been proud of.
“It’s important to try things. It’s part of my work and part of my journey as a painter,” Maggiori says. “It’s that journey that makes each painter’s work his own.”
For more work by Mark Maggiori, click here. Article courtesy of Western Art Collector