A visit this week with modern Western artist Jon Flaming revived a debate that’s been unfolding in my mind for a few years.
I was born in Michigan and moved to Texas when I was 5. I’ve now lived in the Lone Star State for 51 years.
Am I Texan?
I know how to ride a horse, I wear a cowboy hat frequently, I love enchiladas, I’ve visited Big Bend National Park more than 30 times, my drink of choice is the margarita, I eat pe-CONS not PEA-cans, and I’ve survived a deer-on-Ford F150-collision.
But I wasn’t born here.
Flaming was born in Kansas and moved to Texas when he was 5. He grew up visiting a grandfather who ran a 2,000-acre cattle ranch, always wears a hat and boots, and paints fantastic modern images of Old West cowboys that’ll make you swoon. But he never roped and branded cattle for a living.
“For a long time I had this misconception that I can’t be a cowboy because I live in suburbia,” Flaming told me this week, as I furiously typed notes into a computer from a chair at his home studio in Richardson. “Then I had this realization that I’m an artist, I can do what I want. About 10 years ago I finally wrestled that to the ground.”
Today he calls his home, which is filled with cow skulls and leather couches and yellowed old books, the Quarter Acre Ranch. He drives an F150. He works surrounded by a dozen old snapshots of dairy cows (“Bossy” is scribbled in ink on the front of one) pinned to a board. At least half a dozen cowboy hats hang from a coat rack behind him; his favorite is a 25-year-old Stetson. His dog’s name is Duke. Old license plates are nailed to planks on his wooden floor. And a Post-it Note on his computer says “Drill a well today.”
Flaming’s work – big bold canvases featuring geometric cowboys cradling calves and crouched by campfires, oil workers in the field, and barbecue restaurants – somehow blend the Old West with the modern day. It’s like a cowboy moseyed into an old WPA poster, lit a cigarette and stared into the future. His stylized artwork conveys the story of the people who made this state what it is today. I can taste the West Texas dust and smell the cow manure just looking at his work.
Is Flaming a cowboy?
Look for my story about Flaming in an upcoming issue of a legendary Texas publication.