True West

Photo courtesy of Stewart Cohen

Photo courtesy of Stewart Cohen

Texas painter Jon Flaming reimagines the western art genre with a new series of modern interpretations of classic Americana on canvas

Written by Jenn Thornton

Texas artist Jon Flaming is, much like the Lone Star State itself, vast—in interests and richness, in talent and good talk. His studio speaks to a background that is equally diverse. On one side, a large computer cues Flaming’s success as a graphic designer whose Dallas-based firm represented a number of Fortune 500 companies and mom and pops alike; and on the other, an easel tells of his turn into full-time fine art, a move he made three years ago, but indeed much earlier.

 At just 5 years old, Flaming remembers sitting in Sunday school, engrossed by an older boy’s sketch of a jet airplane—a small but seminal moment he credits for helping pave his artistic path, which starts from rural Kansas and leads to big-city Dallas, where as a typical Texas boy, he grew up watching cowboy shows, attending church and playing football. But, as the son of musicians, he also played music, made art and considered a career in architecture. Flaming eventually settled on graphic design, and pursued it while at the same time building equity in the art world. He secured the representation of a Dallas art gallery, had pieces in three Texas museums, and created a following for his depictions of rootsy, workingman western culture—dance halls, oil rigs, and ranches.

“My earliest memories are of rural, middle America,” says Flaming, referencing his grandparents’ Kansas cattle ranch and his many visits there. “It was such a sweet time for me; I have great memories of seeing a working ranch, the farm equipment, the cattle, and the images of a small-town farming community and everything that goes along with that. So when I could drive, I wanted to get out and see everything in Texas that was related to what my memories were as a kid. All of it appeals to me.” And to his audience, which includes private and corporate collectors; this group will likely broaden with Flaming’s latest series, Modern Cowboy.

In the way that John Wayne broke with how the “cowboy” was seen on screen, Modern Cowboy follows Flaming into new territory. “The roughneck on the oil rig or the rancher—I relate to those guys,” he says. “But growing up in suburban Dallas, I also relate to white-collar guys, and everything in between. What I’m trying to do with Modern Cowboy is to reimagine the western art genre,” to push it beyond the usual, the Remington and the Russell. “I’m taking the workingman idea and creating something new with it stylistically,” explains Flaming of his big, bold, blocky and highly graphic images, a kind of primitive, even folk-art abstraction, with afigurative likeness to Gauguin yet distinctly his own. Unmistakable, however, is Flaming’s salt-of-the-earth iconography underscored by the values he lives by, including hard work and a foundational, open faith that he calls “critical and core to what I’m doing.”

To Flaming, art is expressive, but more significantly, a bridge that allows him to build relationships with people from all sectors of life. “Some things, kind of like John Wayne, are universal in their impact,” he says. “People like different things, but I think the effect of art—no matter what type, music, painting, whatever—is the same. It reaches others.” And like Wayne, Flaming has the extraordinary ability to do a lot with little. “For me, creativity is subtraction,” Flaming explains. “As an artist, I guess I’m a little restless; I have to evolve, so I’m pushing toward simplicity. My art is moving towards less.”

Less but more—much more. “I’ve been creating all these years and at 56, I am doing the best work I’ve ever done,” says Flaming. “Lord willing, I’ll die at my easel.”

We partnered with Jon to develop a very creative and art-driven apparel collection that brings his unique vision to life. Click the button below to explore the collection!

Graphic artist turned painter Jon Flaming in his Texas studio. Photo courtesy of Stewart Cohen

Graphic artist turned painter Jon Flaming in his Texas studio. Photo courtesy of Stewart Cohen