The cowboys ride on—as Duke Beardsley paints them—away from who and where they’ve been toward unknown horizons. Their silhouettes remain iconic and recognizable, but the contexts in which they find themselves grow ever more abstract and layered. “With all of these paintings, I don’t set out with a whole lot of finality in mind,” he said. “The challenge to keep them new is exciting for me. I hope the person encountering these paintings feels that freshness.”
No expectations: this is the credo coursing through his studio at this moment. Despite sharing glimpses of works in process, he makes no promises of their appearance at Altamira for his exhibition from Aug. 2 through 13.
“If these don’t show up, it’s because they’re not done for me or for themselves. If they don’t show up, that means we haven’t solved each other’s problems yet. I’ve learned to respect that dynamic: the paintings have an authority that’s as big as mine if I’m willing to go into the studio and be open and be detached from a linear process,” Beardsley said.
The paint itself leads the charge of discovery. Beardsley embraces having little-to-no control over building backgrounds. By their own agency, they are emerging as more stylized, expressionistic expanses. “For me, it’s in the handling of the paint,” he said. “A big piece of the abstraction is in the actual application of the paint… texture is a big piece of this. I have always been fascinated by heavy impasto.”
Through texture and layering, the somatic signature of the artist emerges. “I love when an artist’s presence is felt. Basquiat’s paintings feel so much more tangible to me than David’s. It takes patience to find the moment when I leave my mark behind. It takes the belief that you are going to get there even if you have no idea what you are after. When I stop surprising myself, I’m hanging it up.”
Surprises abound, on canvas and in context. A topical surprise: the current overdrive for the Western mystique saturating social media and marketing campaigns.
As a fifth-generation Coloradan, Beardsley has felt the pull to paint cowboys nearly all of his life. Following his instinct has meant continuing to question the icon through its ever-changing cultural signification, all the way through the current trend of Western transplantation. In this vexing moment, a 1995 essay by William Kittredge offers enduring insight: “Our desire to inhabit a straight-spoken world with solvable problems… whatever the decade, whatever the mood…we ride on into a solacing dream.”
And so Beardsley’s cowboys ride on—into the solacing dream of the West.