Andy & Char­lie

With a cen­tury between them, artists Andy Thomas and Charles M. Rus­sell are linked through time by The Rus­sell in Great Falls, Mon­tana.

Western Art Collector - - WESTERN ART TRAIL CALENDAR - By Michael Claw­son

A look at Andy Thomas’ suc­cess­ful run at The Rus­sell

Part of the leg­end of Charles M. Rus­sell—be­yond the au­then­tic de­pic­tions of the West, his col­or­ful cast of cow­boy char­ac­ters and rev­er­ent treat­ment of Na­tive Amer­i­can sub­jects—is the artist’s dis­tinct phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance. That thought­ful gaze. The prom­i­nent jaw­line and fur­rowed brow. His lips in a slight frown, more se­ri­ous than an­gry. His hair­style, un­der­cut on the sides and parted left of cen­ter with hair swoop­ing down around his fore­head, topped by a hat tilted back on his head. And, of course, the iconic sash around his waist and dan­gling at his side. His ap­pear­ance is just as much of the leg­end as the art. And here’s a test to prove it: quick, what does Charles Schreyvo­gel look like? Or Al­bert Bier­stadt? De­scribe Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton with­out us­ing the word “portly” or Thomas Mo­ran with­out us­ing the word “beard.” You would be for­given for draw­ing a blank when asked to pick out May­nard Dixon and Wil­liam Her­bert “Buck” Dun­ton from a lineup of tall, lanky men with mus­taches.

But Rus­sell was dif­fer­ent. He had a look. It was his own, and it made him iden­ti­fi­able, in his time and still to­day.

One per­son who has al­ways been struck by Rus­sell’s work, as well as his unique look in the an­nals of West­ern art, is Mis­souri painter Andy Thomas. Though the two artists’ lives never in­ter­sected—rus­sell died more than 30 years be­fore Thomas was born—their art­work has plenty of over­lap: rowdy cow­boys on horse­back, brave Na­tive Amer­i­can war­riors set­ting across the plains, and thrilling ac­tion scenes that show how th­ese char­ac­ters could in­ter­act with the West. “I grew up with Char­lie Rus­sell. My dad liked West­ern art so he ex­posed me to him very early,” he says. “In our house it was all Rus­sell, Rem­ing­ton and Nor­man Rock­well, and I was cer­tainly in­flu­enced by all of their work, es­pe­cially Rus­sell.”

In 2008, Thomas did some­thing that would ex­plic­itly link him to Rus­sell: he painted him, and then brought the work to The Rus­sell in Rus­sell’s home­town, Great Falls, Mon­tana, on Rus­sell’s birth­day.

“There was a bit of a risk do­ing that. It was very dif­fer­ent, and then af­ter I sub­mit­ted it I im­me­di­ately had this self-doubt. Artists are a cau­tious bunch some­times, and I started wor­ry­ing it wouldn’t get a sin­gle bid,” Thomas re­mem­bers. “At that time I had only really painted Rus­sell one other time for a small show in my home­town of Carthage, Mis­souri. That paint­ing fea­tured camp­fire sto­ry­tellers and in­cluded Rus­sell and Rem­ing­ton next to each other. I had a lot of fun paint­ing him, and I knew I wanted to paint him again.”

When the call went out for works for The Rus­sell: An Ex­hi­bi­tion and Sale to Ben­e­fit the C.M. Rus­sell Mu­seum, Thomas, who had largely been sell­ing art from a van as he and his wife criss­crossed the coun­try to at­tend art fairs, was met with a lucky break. “I had made a con­certed ef­fort to get in a big show and that year, in a weird twist, The Rus­sell wanted artists to sub­mit their ac­tual paint­ings for in­clu­sion in the sale. They had pre­vi­ously asked for 35mm slides, and I never thought those rep­re­sented my work very well. Once they could see the work first­hand, I got in,” he says. “It would be an im­por­tant mile­stone in my ca­reer be­cause The Rus­sell would change every­thing from that point on.”

The work Thomas sub­mit­ted was his first ma­jor Rus­sell paint­ing, Char­lie Rus­sell and His Char­ac­ters. The work de­picted a group of men and one wo­man in a sa­loon ad­mir­ing Rus­sell’s new­est paint­ing that has been propped up on

Charles M. Rus­sell in his log cabin stu­dio in Great Falls, Mon­tana, work­ing on the paint­ing When the Land Be­longed to God. Stark Pho­to­graph, 1914.

Andy Thomas in his Mis­souri stu­dio.

Andy Thomas, Rus­sell Paints a Mas­ter­piece, 2012, oil on li­nen, 34 x 48"

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