2019-03-01 Western Art Collector

(Martin Jones) #1
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

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

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