PHOTOGRAPH BY ANTHONY SCARLATI
He explains: “They were just these tough people. A mule dragged this friend of mine around the whole paddock in the Rockies. And he was just torn up. I said, ‘I don’t know why you didn’t let go.’ And he said, ‘If I had let go, that mule would have never learned.’” This first-hand observation gave House an understanding of that strong, silent type so often portrayed in Western films. “There’s a cowboy code,” he says. “They don’t put up with a lot of bull or people bragging.”
During his years on ranches and at a gold mine, House may have been working alongside cowboys and laborers—at one point standing high on steel girders in rain and snow—but he held on to his dream of becoming an artist. “I couldn’t let it go,” he says. “I’d be watching things and thinking, God, I wish I could draw that.” He ultimately followed his internal artist, first moving back to Tennessee and working as a commercial illustrator. But today, after taking many workshops through Cowboy Artists of America, he has shifted to painting exclusively, the Old West’s nostalgia, which seeps out of his brush.
House uses watercolors to alternately imbue his paintings with clear light and mysterious haze, and works such as The Cottonwood’s Top Hand take on the nuances of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings of laborers. When he works in oil, House is able to render the lonely, dark hours of ranch life. For his oil painting entitled Cold, Dark Morning at the Cottonwood he won the 2014 John Steven Jones Purchase Award. Beyond capturing the nuances of Western light, House captures gesture, explaining: “Fifty or one hundred years ago, with Remington and Russell, there was more gesture in their work. We rely more on
Artist Jim House
the camera now, and we don’t get the way a cowboy stands or the way a construction guy stands.”
Rather than calling his work ‘romantic’, a word used to describe the art of Remington and Russell, House considers it ‘gritty’. He even goes so far as to compare the experience of painting to riding a mule. “You’ve got to hang on,” he says.
Jim House is represented by Damico Frame and Art Gallery. Visit www.jimhouseart.com and www.damicogallery.com for more information.
Break Time, Watercolor, 7” x 11” 50 | September 2015 NashvilleArts.com
This month's cover is our very own Nancy (comic strip) drawn by Guy Gilchrist.