Cowboys, Cattle, & Country

The Holding Pens, oil, 30 x 48.,painting, Southwest Art.
The Holding Pens, oil, 30 x 48.

By Myrna Zanetell

Traildust: Cowboys, Cattle, and Country was published last October by Greenwich Workshop Press and presents Reynold’s paintings alongside Don Hedgpeth’s tales of cowboy culture.

Tall, lanky, and striking, Arizona artist James Reynolds could easily be mistaken for one of the hundreds of working cowboys he has painted over the past 30 years. Like his cowboy counterparts, Reynolds is known as a man of loyalty and integrity, a rugged individualist guided by strong opinions and uncompromising values.

String Lake Outlet, Jackson, oil, 22 x 30.,painting, Southwest Art.
String Lake Outlet, Jackson, oil, 22 x 30.

“I’ve been asked many times to express my feelings about my work, and it’s always been difficult for me,” he says in Traildust: Cowboys, Cattle, and Country—The Art of James Reynolds, a new book by Don Hedgpeth. “I find that it’s much easier to communicate through my paintings than with words. Some artists can expound on the spiritual aspect of their work or their quest for immortality,” he continues, “but I simply want to interpret—in my own way—what I see, in a manner that is both pleasing and harmonious. I paint because of my love for nature and beautiful things.”

Born in Taft, CA, in 1926, Reynolds has an inherent feel for the West that comes across in his work. “I don’t know what it is about the desert and the high plains,” he says, “but I love wide-open spaces and the feeling of freedom they give me. I try to express these emotions when I paint.”

The Catch Pens, oil, 30 x 40.,painting, Southwest Art.
The Catch Pens, oil, 30 x 40.

Reynolds has spent years on ranches getting to know his subject matter and gathering experiences to last a lifetime. “I don’t ride anymore because I’ve had operations on both knees,” he says, “but I draw on my memories, which are rich with ideas and images. Maybe one of the reasons I love to paint cowboys is because I understand their values—I’m from an older generation.

“Many people think of cowboys as heroes, but most ranchers think of them as just another hired hand on a horse. They’re a unique breed of men—they have a deep respect for the land and take fierce pride in what they do. And they’re still very family-oriented, which is unusual these days.”

Catchin a Spare, oil, 22 x 30.,painting, Southwest Art.
Catchin’ a Spare, oil, 22 x 30.

Reynolds is taciturn by nature, yet there is little doubt where he stands on any particular issue. He is a strong proponent of realism in painting. “I am not totally opposed to abstract work—in fact, I use abstraction frequently in my own paintings. And good use of line, texture, and form will always have its place in any style, but for me art is primarily about beauty. For example, when I visit a museum, I am looking for something to lift my spirits and please my eye.”

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Reynolds went to art school on the GI Bill. He attended the Kahn Institute of Art, Los Angeles, CA, and then the School of Allied Arts, Glendale, CA, where he studied under illustrator Stan Parkhouse.

Buffalo Valley, Wyoming, oil, 18 x 24.,painting, Southwest Art.
Buffalo Valley, Wyoming, oil, 18 x 24.

“When I was a student, the art schools all taught the fundamentals—drawing, composition, color, and perspective,” Reynolds says. “I feel sorry for students today because they’re being encouraged by instructors to do their own thing. They want to break the rules before they know what the rules are. Young artists are in too much of a hurry. Over the years I’ve learned that nothing replaces discipline and hard work.”

Reynolds’ first job after art school was as a technical illustrator in California’s booming aircraft industry, but the work proved too repetitive for him. He next found a job as a sketch artist for the film industry, working for such studios as Columbia, Fox, and Disney. His movie credits include The Diary of Ann Frank; The Long, Hot Summer; Sayonara; My Fair Lady; and Ben Hur.

Packin on the Flathead, oil, 24 x 36.,painting, Southwest Art.
Packin’ on the Flathead, oil, 24 x 36.

In 1967 Reynolds fled California, trading the pressures of the movie industry for the wilderness of Sedona, AZ. It was a fortuitous choice, for the small town was home to Joe Beeler and Charlie Dye, two founding members of the Cowboy Artists of America. The next year Reynolds was invited to join the group, and over the next decade his reputation grew steadily as his work improved.

In 1979 he decided to withdraw from the CAA, however, citing his disenchantment with an increasingly speculative market. “People should buy art for one reason only—because they love it,” Reynolds says adamantly. “Over the years, I’ve always painted with my collectors in mind. The value of a work of art should be measured by the pleasure it brings.”

Following his decision to leave the CAA, Reynolds spent nearly a decade working in the solitude of his studio. During this intensely introspective period, his paintings became marked by his maturity as a painter. In 1992 he became the first artist in the history of the National Academy of Western Artists to sweep the show’s three highest honors: His painting Arizona Cowboys was selected for the Prix de West Purchase Award and also earned the gold medal in the oil category and the Nona Jean Hulsey Buyer’s Choice Award. The following year Reynolds.was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK. “The show was a sellout,” Reynolds says. “It was a lot of fun.” In 1996, feeling a need for fellowship and camaraderie with other artists, Reynolds rejoined the CAA.

These days Reynolds has a new home and studio that he designed, which is located on the outskirts of Scottsdale, AZ. “The only problem is that the city is growing too fast,” he says. “Four years ago we were out in the country, and now traffic on the main road into Scottsdale is bumper to bumper. That’s progress, I guess.”

Reynolds takes special delight in his three sons—J.R., 20, Chris, 18, and John, 15. “They keep me young,” he says. Nearing his 72nd birthday, he admits that being an artist is still hard work. “It never seems to get any easier,” he says, laughing. “The older I get the harder I am to please—I’m never quite satisfied with my work. It would be nice to rest on my laurels, but I believe that striving for perfection is the only way to keep growing. At some point in the future I want people to remember that I gave it my best shot.”

Photos courtesy the artist and Trailside Americana Fine Art Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ; Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; J. N. Bartfield Galleries, New York, NY; Claggett/Rey Gallery, Vail, CO; and Texas Art Gallery, Dallas, TX.

Featured in May 1998