Duke Beardsley presents everlasting images of the American West against a contemporary canvas.
Written by Constance Dunn
Throughout the American West are different kinds of cowboys, with distinctions found among regions. There are the buckaroos of the Great Basin region, for instance, and the Texas waddies (or cowhands). “Every area has its own identity,” explains Duke Beardsley. “In Colorado we’re kind of a melting pot of cowboy culture. We see it all.”
Seeing it all and distilling his vision of the American West across large, vivid canvases are callings for this artist. “I spend a ton of time horseback, working right alongside my friends on ranches, or on my ranch” says the sixth-generation Coloradan, who was raised in two distinct spheres: the city of Denver and the 1,000-acre sprawl of his family’s ranch in the eastern part of the state. These hours spent on ranches, says the artist, represent the raw material of his work: “I’m a big believer that all of that energy and experience—I’ve been doing this my whole life—is invaluable to how I portray these images.” While out on the land, Beardsley gathers “thousands of photographs, and hours and hours of video.” Drawings, too, that he composes on the fly in the midst of the many activities, from roping to branding, that are part of ranch life. Afterwards, he goes back to Denver and ponders both images and memory, letting them percolate before putting paint to canvas.
Beardsley’s Western work has a time-travel quality—looking back while contemplating the present and future. “Ranching is changing fabulously and, in some cases, frighteningly fast,” Beardsley remarks. “Which is pretty amazing considering that the land and the overall practice of animal husbandry remains very much as it was 100 years ago.” Similarly, his works visually reflect both the traditional and contemporary conventions of Western art or what Beardsley describes as “big-world Western art” and “niche, contemporary Western art.” It’s a both-sides approach that echoes the artist’s life. Beardsley spent his formative childhood years, and life since then, comfortably loping two worlds. Just as there are days spent in the open-sky serenity of the family ranch, there are others spent in the bustle of Denver. Or Los Angeles, where Beardsley attended art school and even contemplated settling permanently, until a girl (who he would eventually marry) and an interested Denver gallery beckoned him back to his home state.
As an artist, Beardsley is a success story whose dance card is flush with commissions and showings. This, also, is an achievement that can be credited to his knack for balancing yet two more spheres: his art, and the business of his art. Realizing early in his career that being a full-time painter would involve much more than just painting, Beardsley enlisted a small staff. And when it comes to the task of presenting his work—and self—to the world, not for him is the image of the cloistered artist. “I take great delight in interacting with anybody who’s willing, or curious, about what I do,” says Beardsley. “I am one of the few artists I know who revels in having people in the studio.” In the case of private commissions, of which Beardsley does many, he says: “The client’s enthusiasm is welcomed and championed and encouraged. My thinking is that you and the painting will have a much longer relationship than you and I will—and even longer than the painting and I will—so I want the results, and your participation, to be something you can look back on very fondly.”
Photos courtesy of Duke Beardsley