2019-03-01 Western Art Collector

(Martin Jones) #1

with pistols and shotguns as horses buck and
dogs bark in the dust.
Although he hasn’t done any major Russell
works since 2013, Thomas has painted smaller
pieces of the artist, including a recent portrait.
And if you look close in other paintings, Russell-
like characters make appearances. In A Knock
at the Door a figure that looks an awful like
Russell waves his hat as fellow cowboys ride
their horses into a saloon’s open doors. In other
works, Thomas calls back to classic Russell
images. Grizzly Mountain, for instance, features
a bear attack on a rider with a string of ponies on
a mountain path. It could easily be an immediate
follow-up to Russell’s Crippled but Still Coming.
And while Russell is still king in Thomas’
studio, another figure landed like a meteor in

the artist’s life—President Donald Trump. After
the 2016 election, Thomas painted Trump in The
Republican Group, where he is seated at a table
with other Republican presidents, including
Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower and
Ronald Reagan. They all have drinks; Trump has
a glass of Diet Coke while Teddy Roosevelt has
what appears to be a mint julep in a tin cup. A
print of the piece was seen hanging in Trump’s
personal dining room in the White House in an
October 2018 piece on 60 Minutes. The phone
started ringing not long after.
“I have to be honest that I didn’t grumble or
grouse because it was a lot of fun. I felt like the
pretty girl at the dance and everyone wanted to
talk to me,” Thomas says, adding that the story
was picked up by The Washington Post, New

York Times, USA Today, Time and hundreds
of other newspapers, magazines and online
outlets. “Even TMZ called and wanted to do an
interview. I remember the call, it was this sweet
girl, a young woman with a valley girl voice.
I got one interview request from a Hungarian
newspaper that was published for Hungarian
ex-pats in Bosnia. It was wild stuff.”
The painting was polarizing, which
seems about right in this era of politics.
Trump supporters saw the painting as a grand
declaration of Trump’s ascendancy in the GOP,
the White House and to the top of the American
political system, while Trump’s opponents saw
it as kitschy art that painted Trump as equals of
Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Thomas
read the good and the bad coverage and was
just thrilled to be talking about his art, and
Western art in general, to an audience that might
not have been exposed to it. And when people
suggested he was a shill for Trump, Thomas had
a powerful comeback: when Barack Obama
was elected, he painted a version of the same
painting featuring Democratic presidents, with
Obama enjoying a beer next to John F. Kennedy.
“Everybody’s taste in art is different, and you
certainly saw that in a big way when that
painting was in the news,” he says. “Also, sales
were through the roof. At one point we had to
cut off orders to do a count on our numbered
prints. It was a fun chaos, and even today they
are still selling very well.”
With calls about the Trump painting still
coming in—the president himself even called—
Thomas has once again let his thoughts drift
to The Russell and its namesake. This year’s
painting is Hot Time in Ft. Benton, which tells
the true story of a cannon that was fired on the
back of a mule, a story Russell surely would
have chuckled at. “A demonstration of the
power of a mountain howitzer to impress the
Indians seemed a clever move to their agent,”
the artist, who is a member of the Russell Skull
Society of Artists, writes of the piece. “That
would make the meeting more productive. No
need to unpack it, the back of the mule would
work. The mule did not agree.”
Thomas goes into each sale grateful to
be part of The Russell’s rich history, and even
more grateful that his name is included in
any discussion related to Charles M. Russell.
“He was a really talented guy, especially his
drawing. He had an innate talent that even
Remington didn’t have, and I love Remington’s
work, but you can just see talent oozing out of
Russell,” he says. “I’m not in the same league
with Russell, but I’m glad to be connected to
him in this way.”

Andy Thomas, Charlie Russell, 2018, oil, 16 x 12"

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