When Mark Maggiori was 15 years old, he flew from his home in France to New York for a month-long visit that would include a coast-to-coast drive through America’s vast natural and cultural landscape. From the steel and concrete of the big city, he traveled through the sprawling heartland and into the West, where towering rock formations beckoned his arrival. In On the Road, Jack Kerouac wrote, “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” Maggiori, transfixed by the desert’s beauty, had reached his own dividing line.
“The American West had already imprinted on my brain at that point. As a boy I would play with a cowboy hat and pistol, watch Western movies and read about cowboys,” Maggiori says. “But when I finally came here, and saw Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, it started to connect for me in bigger ways. Those sights, those places—they all looked like big movie sets—they created very strong memories for me, and I suddenly understood the West and what it was.” After that initial visit and road trip west, Maggiori
returned to Europe to embark on his own path forward, one that was then, and still is today, wholly unique to Western art. He formed Pleymo, a French nu-metal band that traveled the world and released a handful of successful albums. He also began exploring other artistic avenues with photography, filmmaking and animation. In 2007, the band dissolved and Maggiori, like Henry Farny before him, left France and came to the United States. Here he pursued his photographic endeavors, from elaborate feature films to music videos for an array of musical groups to his intimate—at times, erotic—photography of figures eloping into the myth of Western culture.
To appreciate this era of Maggiori’s career, and to punctuate how unique his entry into Western art is, it’s helpful to remember some of the tenets of the American West: country music, conservative values, modest dress and attitudes, and national pride. And here was a Frenchman, a former singer in a metal band, coming to the Southwest to photograph nudes in provocative photos shoots and to create art that broadened the interpretation of the West. To say he was an outsider is an understatement, yet as soon as he started painting cowboys, and showing his unmistakable talent, he was accepted by the old guard and the new.
“I’m definitely different. I come from a completely different culture, and my background already set me apart from others. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t done those things and instead started painting earlier. But then I realize I’m happy of the other things I’ve done, because now I can use those things to inform my paintings,” Maggiori says from his Los Angeles studio. “It’s also very interesting to share these new moments with other artists. I went to the Cowboy Artists of America, with artists like Teal Blake, and they all do things very differently. They’re true cowboys. In many ways, those artists and I are completely opposite from each other. Yet, we see things in the same way, and all those differences disappear when we’re painting.”
Maggiori was so new to Western art when he started that he was still unfamiliar with many of the great artists, including Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. “I’ve been discovering as I go. I was familiar with Norman Rockwell and John Singer Sargent in France, but they are very international artists,” he adds. “I only discovered the Taos artists two years ago. I didn’t know who Walter Ufer was, or even Frank Tenney Johnson. I still get on the Internet and look up new artists, and I’m learning more all the time.”
These are remarkable revelations from someone who has revealed such a deep appreciation of the West and a remarkable ability to capture it in new ways. Painter Logan Maxwell Hagege, who discovered the French artist and immediately began promoting his work within the Western art market, ties Maggiori’s quickly developing skill back to his love of the West. “He’s a breath of fresh air to this whole world, and you can see it in his work. It has an old world sort of feel to it. It links back to Remington, and the Taos artists. His works feel old, but they have a contemporary edge to them,” Hagege says, adding that he met Maggiori, an avid buyer and reseller of vintage clothes, through a hat maker friend. “He’s an interesting guy, and he’s done such a wide variety of different things, from bands in France to vintage clothing to videos…it all just strengthens him as an artist.
It also makes him stick out, but in a good way. He’s definitely an outsider, and his work has an outsider feel to it.”Maggiori’s solo exhibition, Alone in the Wild—opening October 10 at Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Culver City, California— will be the world’s first full glimpse of this international enigma that has taken the West by storm. The title of the show is a reference to the artist’s days in Kingman, Arizona, where he was holed up by himself for several months before joining his wife, and frequent muse, who had taken a job in Los Angeles.
“During that time period, Mark was painting in seclusion. And similar to his paintings, which depict a lone cowboy on the range, he felt like he was in his paintings. Mentally and figuratively, he was alone in the wild,” says Beau Alexander, co-owner of Maxwell Alexander. “Having been born in France and growing up there as well, his vision is completely unique. His experience of the American West started as an outsider, but his many years living in small dusty desert towns have made him an authentic Westerner, both in his art and his spirit. Before his move to Los Angeles, he had the letters ‘A-R-I-Z-O-N-A’ tattooed on his forearm to pay homage to the West that has given him his muse. His dedication to the West is seen in his work ethic as well as his many trips into the lonely deserts to find his subjects.”
The works in the show are timeless depictions of horse and rider in a variety of landscapes, from dusty perches above canyon rims to low-lying flatlands dotted with desert sagebrush. In The Kaibab Trail, he paints a rider and two horses framed against the Grand Canyon, its majestic etching of the earth seen from a high angle and in tremendous detail. Many of his pieces are imbued with motion: riders hunched back as their horses descend a sandy slope, a horse mane bouncing upward during a steady gallop, a rope in an accordion- like freefall as a bronco bucks. He also paints sumptuous nocturnes that would make Frank Tenney Johnson proud—his blues sparkle, subtle shadows dance on the soil, and moonlit clouds balloon out over the desert floor.
Clouds also play a prominent role in Down the Wash, featuring a cowboy descending a dusty hill. The horizon line separates the warm earthy tones of the desert from the cool blues and whites of the sky. “I find that I’m mostly interested in the pose and the action. With that one it was the dynamic of the guy and the horse,” Maggiori says. “Lately I’ve found models for my paintings. Sometimes they lean forward or stay very straight. Typically I tell them to stay very straight, and then I change the cowboy figure in the painting. I like to change what I’m actually seeing, to see how I can make it better or more interesting. There is so much to learn, so I just try to see what works best for me.”
Maggiori says he’d like to start experimenting with historical works, a subject that has recently been fascinating him. “I’m very touched by the story of America,” he says. For now, though, he continues to have his hands in many projects, including new paintings. “This work is very hard, and sometimes I have to ask myself what the fuck I’m doing. It’s such a lonely road sometimes. When you’re in the studio, there are days it’s very uplifting, and then there are days where it’s a real struggle. Luckily, there is much out there to see and paint. The West is such a huge culture and an important American tradition.” It’s an American tradition that he is now contributing to. And in a big way.