Spanish artist Dani Vergés on the everlasting lure of the American West.
Written by Constance Dunn
There’s a universality to the cowboy. But as a boy growing up in Barcelona, it wasn’t the Spanish vaquero but the image of the American cowboy and scenes of the American West that captured his eye and imagination. “I really loved how it made me dream—those skies, those landscapes,” says artist Dani Vergés of a connection that first stirred in childhood, when he would watch John Wayne movies with his grandfather. “I don’t know why it affected me so much.” He started sketching Western scenes, and his affinity even extended to music. From trips to the States, he recounts, his mother would bring back country and western records for him as presents. It was an amusing fixation, since no one he knew was remotely interested in the all-American genre. “For whatever reason,” says Vergés of those Western tunes and images, “it gave me a sort of peace.”
It still does. By day Vergés is a graphic artist and co-founder of Barcelona-based branding firm Slow. After hours he makes time for himself in the studio: brush in hand, floating across paper. He creates singular images, mostly in watercolor, evoking the solitude and grace of the West. Seeing an image come to life, under his hand, is satisfaction. His work also brings a wave of personal calm—just as it did when Vergés was a child and, years later, when struggling with the loss of his brother.
Nowadays, his imagination is fed not just by celluloid, but also by his personal trips to the American West. The artist’s first was to Colorado, where he experienced Western life firsthand while spending time on a ranch. “It wasn’t natural that it felt so natural,” says Vergés with a laugh. “I come from a city in Europe, so it makes no sense.” But the land and the people held a familiar comfort for him. Once back in Spain, he continued creating his scenes, using the photographs and notes he took in the field. His work is distinctive and, as Vergés points out, not so different than when he first started out as a child. “I still have a folder full of drawings that are basically the same thing I’m doing now,” he says. (His grandfather, the person who first introduced him to Western scenes, was also his first archivist, gifting Vergés a collection of his early drawings that he saved for his grandson.)
Vergés is also perpetually drawn to sketch-like silhouettes for their understated power. “There is something super raw about it that’s so natural,” he explains. When shown an artist’s sketch as a precursor to an elaborate painting, for instance, he’ll almost always prefer the sketch. His take on instantly recognizable Western symbols, like horses and cowboys, is typically pared-down and uncluttered, just like it exists in real life. Another signature of his work is a studied and intentional use of white space. This influence, says Vergés, comes from Japanese art and design, of which he’s a longtime fan.
Over time, his expressive take on the American West—truthful and elemental—has brought the attention of others, including John Wayne Enterprises, which is working with the artist to bring his unique takes on the Duke, plus other Western mainstays like horses and landscapes, to items ranging from garments to glassware. “When making these drawings,” Vergés says of the collaboration, “I focused on elements that represent the West that you could see in John Wayne films. I’ve always found that Western films are very evocative, adventurous and quiet. That’s been my inspiration.”
“A lot of fun projects have come from it,” says the artist of his work with brands. His artwork catches their eye, and his graphic design expertise can supplement the vision, enabling anything from logos and garments to animation. The week we speak, for instance, the artist had been scheduled to fly to Nebraska to be part of a rodeo shoot for a Canadian brand. “What I like is that sense of peace and connection with the environment,” the artist says of being out West. “We will always need that.”
DANI VERGÉS X JOHN WAYNE STOCK & SUPPLY ~ View the Collection
Photographs courtesy of Dani Vergés