ART of the WEST July/August 2022

Page 1

Drive and Determination

(Left) Calm Before the Storm, acrylic, 40” by 30”

“This is my narrative painting depicting the environmental changes occurring in the Arctic regions. This majestic, lone polar bear is a captive of its limited habitat, which is slowly shrinking. I painted the bear as an isolated solitary figure facing the warming weather patterns that are reducing the Arctic sea ice, which illustrates the starkness of the lone polar bear’s plight. The flock of terns flying overhead are of secondary interest to enhance the narrative of this painting. The birds are fortunate in that their migration patterns extend from North Pole to South Pole. They have the ability to leave. They can be viewed as either harbingers of a dire fate or a symbol of hope.”

(Top right) Out Foxed, acrylic, 15” by 40”

“I have never understood the sport of fox hunting. The glamor of the riders, rituals, horses, and hounds is stimulating to see. I decided to do this painting from the fox point of view as it observes the absurd, misguided ritual passing it by as it rests in its beautiful fur coat in a grapevine-covered wooden fence retreat.”

(Bottom right) American Nobility, acrylic, 60” by 40”

“The North American Elk is a spectacular species of deer that roams the mountains and valleys of the North American continent with grace and elegance. I am always impressed when I watch this majestic creature in the wilds of our nation’s national parks. The elk cow has a quiet grace. The bull elk is masterful as it balances its crown of antlers as dashingly as a medieval knight would a sword to impress the elk cow and to spar with, or intimidate, a rival in battle.”

Crouched behind a wooden fence, tail down, ears perked, heart racing, he watches. His auburn fur blends into the fall grass and vines, a perfect camouflage from the danger galloping across the field, as horses, dogs, and riders in red coats are leaping, yelping, scrambling—all searching for him. A seasoned adversary, he knows not to move a muscle. He stays perfectly still, his eyes watching for clues to his next move—his chance to change his fate.

Outfoxed is a spellbinding story of being hunted told by Ezra Tucker with acrylics on a three-foot board. He paints animals with so much

animation and depth of personality that viewers become emotionally

attached to them. “Some artists are photographically real, but realism

July/August 2022 • ART of the WEST 63

Franklin’s Choice, acrylic, 40” by 30”

“The American wild turkey is a majestic and beautiful bird. I have had the opportunity to observe flocks of this vibrant colored bird in the wild. I find it interesting to know that Benjamin Franklin wanted this bird, rather than the bald eagle, as our national symbol. He thought the wild turkey was a much more appropriate national symbol for the newly independent United States. He argued that the turkey was ‘a much more respectable bird,’ ‘a true original native of America,’ and ‘though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage’

“My appreciation of the large scale prints that artist James J. Audubon produced of birds and the beauty and delicacy of Fenwick Landsdowne’s paintings and drawings of birds inspired and intrigued me, when I was a young art student in art college, to one day produce works of art as informative and beautiful as their depictions of birds. These two artists are my standard of excellence in bird painting. I take a bit from both of these artists to develop my style of depicting my subjects. This painting is intended to entertain or inform those who enjoy birds but know little about their habits or lives.”

er, a major national one-man exhbition museum tour.

The son of a poor minister from Memphis, Tennessee, Tucker was one of six children living with his parents in a two-bedroom home. He wasn’t allowed to play sports in the street with kids from the neighborhood because his father felt his family needed to set an example for the community. “They had strict rules and told us, ‘Find something to do inside,’” Tucker says, so he turned to books. “I’d read all day if I was allowed to. Living in my imagination was most comfortable for me. I could read anytime, anywhere.”

In the early ‘60s, Tucker’s parents bought a set of encyclopedias, and young Tucker not only read them, he wrote and drew about what he read. He also drew pictures of stories from the Bible and visited public libraries where he researched the Egyptian culture he read about in the Old Testament. “I wanted it to make sense to me, how it applied to my existence,” he says.

overexplains the image,” Tucker says. “I want to have people use their imaginations.”

Tucker has created artwork for some of the biggest names in

the entertainment industry, and his paintings are in museum collections across the country. He is especially excited that, next year, his work will be featured in The Art of Ezra Tuck-

Tucker was hungry for answers but there were roadblocks. He wanted to visit art museums and learn how to sketch and paint but his father frowned on it. “He didn’t see any value in it,” Tucker says. “He thought it was a waste of time. As a Black man in the U.S., he believed the only way to make a living was by manual labor. He thought I should get a factory job and go into the ministry. I wanted a life more than church five days a week; I wanted to

64 ART of the WEST • July/August 2022

Between Matinees, acrylic, 20” by 30”

“In 1883, William F. Cody started his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West extravaganza


entertain. It was the first and prototypical Wild West show that featured theatrical reenactments of battle scenes that contained a cast of hundreds, as well as live buffalo, elk, cattle, and other animals and trick performances. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show traveled with a small herd of North American bison during its 30-year tours across North America and Europe. The American bison was one of the central attractions to the circus, like spectacle simulating a buffalo hunt with actual Native American performers recruited from many of the Plains tribes. While trying to rebuild his Wild West, which had been steadily losing its luster with the public, the show went bankrupt in 1913. He was forced to join the Sells-Floto Circus, which helped Cody to continue his extravaganza until April 13, 1915.”

see the world.”

When his parents bought a TV, Tucker’s world expanded as he watched “The American Sportsman,” “The Wonderful World of Disney,” and shows about nature. “The visuals were very stimulating to me,” he says.

By the time he was old enough to attend school, Tucker was the designated nerd in the family. One of his aunts, who had been a librarian, took note of his artistic promise and gave him books and magazines to study. “I saw Norman Rockwell’s art on the cover of a Saturday Evening Post and said, ‘I want to do that,’” he


Later, his second-grade teacher noticed he was doodling rather than paying attention in class and marched him to the principal’s office. He was asked to show the paper on which he had been drawing and, when he did, the teacher’s anger turned to astonishment. “After that, it was art all the time,” Tucker says, adding that his art made him a standout in high school. “I was popular because I did a range of things—public posters, stage sets. I could draw and paint from my imagination.”

By then, Tucker knew art was his future but he would have to

overcome challenges in order to realize it. Colleges throughout the country were desegregating, and he wanted to attend Pratt or Rhode Island School of Design, but his father wanted him to go to Memphis State. When Tucker told a teacher about the situation, she encouraged me to apply to the Memphis Academy of Art, and Tucker was accepted to the school.

Tucker worked nights and, during the days, studied the detailed work of naturalists such as John Audubon, wildlife compositions by Carl Rungius, and the works of 19th century European animalists. Often,

July/August 2022 • ART of the WEST 65
as outdoor spectacle designed to educate and

(Top left) Called To Duty, acrylic, 30” by 40”

“The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers patrolled the territories of the Western frontier following the American Civil War. The Buffalo Soldiers were significant in their duties in Indian Territory to preserve the peace with Native Americans. Although many of these soldiers were vehemently opposed to Washington’s policies towards Native Americans, some assignments had Buffalo Soldiers guarding Natives from white soldiers, lawmen, or aggressive white civilians.

“My inspiration for creating this painting comes from my interest in and my research of a series of paintings I am producing to tell the seldom-told history of many people of African descent who were important and involved in the settling of the Western regions of the United States of America. I imagined this dramatic scene of a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers charging forward to perform an assigned task. Their duties included capturing cattle rustlers and thieves and protecting settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains, and railroad crews along the Western front. These men underwent intense training to perform their duties. They were revered for their valiant efforts and feats to defend and protect.”

(Bottom left) Where the Missouri Breaks, acrylic, 20” by 30”

“A steamboat named Yellow Stone was in service for the American Fur Company, moving merchandise, people, and supplies along the Missouri River in the 1830s. I imagined in my depiction that this side wheeler steamboat must have crossed paths many times with herds of bison crossing Western waterways as they migrated from birthing grounds to more favorable feeding grounds along the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.”

on Saturdays, he’d be at the public library researching Howard Pyle and J.C. Leyendecker. Attending classes eight hours a day and working six hours each night was exhausting but Tucker’s dedication earned him awards and scholarships.

He was also the beneficiary of advice from Jack Lew, one of hismentors and professors. “He said, ‘Point of view is everything for any artist,’” Tucker recalls. “‘Find a unique point of view, not like anyone else’s but unique to yourself, and everything else will fall in place.’ And he was right; a point of view can help you decide your success.”

Ten days after earning a BFA degree in advertising design, Tucker moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and went to work for Hallmark, where he met Nancy, an attractive and talented young illustrator. When he decided to become an independent illustrator and move to California, he proposed to her, and they married in 1983. In California, Tucker began to do work for Disney and did such a great job that word about him spread, bringing with it Hollywood

studio work and other opportunities.

“I did paintings of the AnheuserBusch Clydesdales; they were one of my first clients,” Tucker says, adding that he created annual portraits of the massive Scottish draught horses galloping through snowy forests. “I did art for their Christmas billboards and magazine ads. If I can get close enough to any animal, I’ll take photos of every part of them— backs of ears, inside ears, paws, top and bottom. I cut out pictures of

66 ART of the WEST • July/August 2022

them from magazines and put them in a folder. Then I’ll start sketching them and, if I need details, I’ll go to a folder I have of that creature. I rarely have to leave the studio.”

Tucker was busy working for filmmakers and production companies for several years, expanding his talents—and his family, which grew to include three children—along the way. In 2000, the Tuckers moved to Monument, Colorado, where Tucker and his brother, an architect, built a custom studio and home. Located on three acres of land, the property includes Tucker’s studio above a three-car garage, a space that is filled with nature magazines and photography books, some worth as much as $600. “I’ve been buying books since college for research,” he says. “They’re my inspiration. Many of them are out of print.”

Tucker’s work was so striking that companies began to reproduce his illustrations as fine art prints so he started creating his own artwork. By 2005, he had established himself as a fine artist. “I burned out on doing other people’s projects,” he says.

Recently, Tucker has been adding to his subject matter and is capturing more stories of Black pioneers of the West such as Bass Reeves, the Black Arkansas lawman who influenced “The Lone Ranger” dime novels; Buffalo Soldiers, Black members of Calvary and Infantry Regiments; and Jim “Bloody Arm” Beckwourth, a Black mountain man, fur trader, and explorer who was also an army scout and fought in the Second Seminole War. Like Tucker, those men disregarded circumstance in order to achieve dreams greater than the times offered them.

“When I was young, it was a challenge,” he says of the obstacles he has faced. “But my determination to succeed helped navigate land mines out there. You get used to it or you fold up and go home. To succeed, you learn to navigate a culture you didn’t grow up in.”

Over the years, Tucker has given talks to students who want careers in art. He tells them it’s a tough road, especially if they come from poor families and have no re-

“The area we know today as the State of Oklahoma was called Indian Territory in the 1800s. The famous Judge Isaac C. Parker was the United States Marshal who wielded the federal gavel from 1875 to 1896. He had the burden of policing Indian Territory at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Through his appointed deputy marshals, he brought lawbreakers to justice in the courtroom. One of the most interesting was an African American and former slave named Bass Reeves (1838-1910). In 1875, Judge Parker was decisive by appointing Bass Reeves as one of the first, if not the first, African Americans to hold a federal law enforcement position. During the length of his career as a U.S. Marshal, Reeves became very skilled at hunting and tracking down notorious outlaws and bringing them to justice. It is estimated that Bass Reeves arrested more than 3,000 felons during his career, and he might have been forced to kill as many as 14 outlaws. Legend speaks of Bass Reeves as the original ‘Lone Ranger.’”

sources. “It’s a struggle and very complex,” he says. “For a Black artist to succeed, to have a career in Western art, surprises a lot of people. You have to be passionate about

what you do.”

Robyne Robinson lives in Santa Fe, New

July/August 2022 • ART of the WEST 67
Mexico. Bass Reeves—U.S. Marshal, acrylic, 40” by 30”

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.