Mark Maggiori may have missed the golden era of the lone-cowboy, but has brought his mythology back to life via rich and deeply technical paintings; works that portray and exagerate the challenges, triumphs and miniature of American life on a raw canvas. In just under four years, his pieces have taken the art-world by (hand-painted) storm. And from a residence in Los Angeles, he tells me why.
“I try to put my passion for the American west on canvas and share my vision of this iconic and romantic period of time” Maggiori says from his studio in Beachwood Canyon, a small enclave of the Hollywood Hills he only recently moved to. I’ve got a rare moment with the 41-year old French man, who works to a strict regime that has him painting for up to 10-hours a day in the service of a time when the dream of a promised land was still an option.
Maggiori is on something of an early-career hot streak, having painted his first western scene just four years ago. But one would be remiss to note the timing of his success is analogous with renewed interest in the modern cowboy, with HBO’s Westworld, Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption II and Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone all feeding into a new kind of lore on the subject. And like all legacies discovering new audiences, this renaissance has sparked another conversation in how we interpret these tales — one no different to that described by the Times in 1981.
Do we acknowledge the raw brutality of its outlaws, the slow conservatism of its settlers, or go full John Ford and over-exaggerate the whole thing? A quick look at Maggiori’s work reveals a semi-peaceful mix of all three. “Keeping these stories alive is interesting; accuracy is important when you want to make a historical painting, but I don’t always do historical paintings. I try to be a bit more reminiscent of the era than truthful to it” he explains. He also credits a stint living in Arizona for revealing that the miniature of daily life in this world was just as epic as the landscape around it: “I learnt that there was so much more to the experience. It’s taken so much research and reading* and I’m still learning so much, but I have a better understanding now than I ever have.”
*Maggiori reads ‘with his ears’ via audiobooks while he’s painting, citing American Serengeti by Dan Flores (“about buffalo plains from an American and African perspective”), Crossing to Safety and Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner (“one of my favourite authors”) and The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko (“such a great book”) as favourites.
If there is something most people would take away from a Mark Maggiori painting, it’s the clouds; layered, textural monuments that both dwarf and magnify the subject with impossible detail. Each painting takes between 15-days to one-month to produce (using Sennelier paints and Blick Wonder White brushes, of which he goes through about two a day). But they all start from a reference, and it’s usually shot by the artist himself. “I was a music video director before this life, so I like to shoot where the ideas come from. Nothing is just born in my head, I need references and my imagination is nothing compared to what reality brings to you. I like to organise shoots in a way I would shoot a video: Usually a visual location inspires me first. Then I’ll get some people together, shoot it, sketch it (because the best photos don’t always translate to a good painting). Then I start to paint.”
This startling detail and realism has captured the eyes of many, but improving this technicality is not a priority. “Realism is cool, but I like rough paintings so I try and find a nice in-between” noting the visual distance between works on Maggiori’s instagram page and their three-dimensional counterparts; brush strokes, colour blends and interactions that are integral to the process. On that note, Maggiori doesn’t think he’ll ever work on hyperrealism because thats not the point. “The point is to make people believe in the possibilities of nature.”
Any artist will tell you that increased attention brings with it additional critique; a facet of the culture Maggiori side-steps with a determination to own his myth. “Someone might come up and say ‘that’s too romantic’ and I’ll say ‘I know’ he laughs. “But I don’t really want to paint bloody people or scalped native Americans because that’s not my position. I just want people to dream and travel back in time.”
I’m living in my own dream. I’m aware of what’s going on in the world and in this country, but my paintings come from a desire to go back to a time of no bullshit… or at least different bullshit.Mark Maggiori
This increased attention also raises the value of his work — a recent piece fetched just shy of $45,000USD at auction — though often at the expense of the everyman who has the most to gain from his escapism. Print runs are scarce and sell out almost instantly, but that’s part of the appeal. “I keep it rare because I want it to be timeless. If I didn’t, people would have less interest and I don’t want to de-value the work”. However, a new print run, this time of three pieces selected via public survey, will go on sale early November. “I want people to understand that if they want this image for the next 10-15 years, they need to get it now. But that’s the game, that’s how it is and early birds get the worm.”
I try to be a bit more reminiscent of the era than truthful to it.Mark Maggiori
Nestled in those Hollywood Hills, Maggiori will conclude our conversation and begin a day of painting that may last well into the evening. He will likely craft a piece that speaks to a nostalgic brand of American beauty; devoid of its cruelty and hopeful of its future. My final question then was about escapism, and whether or not his emphasis on storytelling was a means to ‘tap out’ of the current news cycle. “I’m living in my own dream” he says. “I’m aware of what’s going on in the world and in this country, but my paintings come from a desire to go back to a time of no bullshit… or at least different bullshit.”
“Two days ago I was in Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona, an area so remote and so beautiful that the more you stare at it the quieter everyone gets. I hope my paintings can have that affect: to help people escape their reality for a while. Of course for someone from Arizona, I’m just painting their backyard. But for everyone else there’s something very exotic and dreamy about it. That’s what I like.”
Mark Maggiori’s next run of prints go on sale at 11AM PST on the 11th of November, 2018. Get them here.
Feature image: West Side of the Rio Grande. 45x60inches. Oil on linen.