Duke Beardsley Evokes
the American West
Colorado artist Duke Beardsley walks a line between illusion and reality. Illusion in the sense that he believes art should be open to interpretation, leaving it to the individual to finish the story in his or her own way. Reality in the sense that the setting is artfully presented, providing a beautifully painted canvas that enables the viewer to both interpret and feel a part of the painting.
Chatting with Beardsley is art in motion, a flurry of sentiments that describe his passion for a craft that has propelled him to the forefront of western artists. Using the iconic working cowboy and horse as the center stone for much of his work, Beardsley’s art compels you to study the details and insert yourself into that very real, yet somehow elusive scenario. “The icon itself, the working cowboy, is very traditional in western art,” he says. “But I’m very much influenced by pop art, which inserts a more modern, contemporary vibe into my work.”
The pop art influence means that for Beardsley, the magic of the painting derives not from the detail of the work, but rather from the viewer’s interpretation. “My job is to give up just enough to let you complete the mission,” he says. In the abstract, it forces you to interpret what you’re looking at. It begins a narrative that lets you complete the story. For example, if I tip the cowboy’s hat just enough to shade the face, you can insert yourself into the story and it becomes a part of you.”
“When I’m painting, I’m much more motivated by how it feels than by how it looks,” Beardsley explains. “I spent the first 30 years of my life worrying how something looks to others and painted with that thought.” Now, however, his overriding concern is what he terms the “illusion of reality.” Today, he says, it’s all about how it feels and in turn how it makes others feel.
Beardsley’s passion and love of the West is obvious, stemming from his well-sown roots in a land where cowboys and horses once ruled. A fifth-generation Colorado native, Beardsley’s family is the consummate representation of all that is truly the American West. His mother’s uncle was Quigg Newton, a highly respected man who served as Mayor of Denver and president of the University of Colorado. His father’s family lived in Westcliffe, CO, and were cattle ranchers who lived and loved the land.
“Both sides of my family have a rich Colorado history that is part of my heritage,” Beardsley says. His grandparents and parents taught him a love of horses that has never waned, and his family still owns a horse ranch in Summit County. “I spend a lot of time on horseback and I’m fascinated by the physical relationship between horse and rider. Horses get such limited appreciation for their intelligence, and if you look closely at this relationship, it’s amazing.”
A true work of art comes from the heart, the experience, the very soul of the artist. And, as Beardsley says, it’s just something you feel and it’s that feeling that makes it special. “When someone looks at one of my paintings and tells me, ‘Oh, that is exactly how that feels,’ there is nothing I’d rather hear. It’s not the technique, it’s the feeling evoked that I am always striving for.”
Technique, Beardsley says, can be taught. And while masterful technique may initially catch your eye, what catches your heart goes well beyond that realm. “Anyone can learn to paint or draw technically, but the impulse, the passion is not technical, not teachable. Art is the expression, and the impulse to create it is the magic. And the impulse cannot be taught.”
Beardsley’s pieces have been featured in numerous exhibits locally and internationally, including The Great American Landscape, a groundbreaking traveling exhibition of contemporary American western art displayed in museums throughout China. His work has garnered vast awards and praise, and in 2012 he was selected to paint the 2013 Calgary Stampede commemorative poster. His paintings have been featured in numerous exhibitions, including The Coors Western Art Show, the Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale, the Masters of the American West Exhibition and The Colorado Governor’s Invitational Art Show. His pieces are found in private and public collections worldwide, including the Denver Art Museum, The Booth Museum of Western Art, the Whitney Collection of Western American Art and the Forbes Collection.
Beardsley’s work is widely acclaimed for its unique ability to tell a story. Or rather, to let the audience complete the story in their own way. “I strive to be original in my work. I want to portray that sense of independence and self-sufficiency. I understand that originality is not everything in the arts, but it’s pretty cool!”
— ellen gray