GLADEWATER – A stone’s throw from Gladewater, down a bumpy country road with minimal signage, lives an award-winning artist who seems more at home in a horse barn than a fancy gallery.
Most people call Monty Graham by his professional title – Cowboy Artist – and that suits him just fine.
He enjoys a simple, earthy life that appears as genuine and comfortable as a pair of well-worn jeans, surrounded by his beloved horses and a mixed breed dog from somewhere.
More often than not, his surroundings inspire an idea that mushrooms into something of striking simplicity.
“I’ve always been a realist,” he said. “In college, abstract was the big thing. I was criticized because I refused to do it. I think you should be able to draw … being able to draw is part of the art form.”
LIVES ON CANVAS
Graham’s country lifestyle helps fuel the brain for subject matter, depicting the rough and tumble cowboy way of life, sans the glamour and romanticism of big screen westerns.
His own horses act as gentle as kittens, but Graham’s canvas heroes get kicked, thrown and tossed - in pencil, watercolor and oil.
“You need to know what you’re doing and the subject matter,” he said of creating authentic looking scenes that seem to ooze details. “I deal in realism … blood and guts, dirt and sweat.”
His home is filled with inspiration and antique tools of yesterday’s cowhands – spurs, chaps and saddles, interspersed with personal paintings, photos and statues.
An entire wall is devoted to photos of all the horses he’s ever loved, which are many and date back to childhood.
One might assume such a creative spirit lives by whim, but Graham actually observes a disciplined schedule that includes time for tending to his animals and his imagery.
“I do want to have the mood strike me, but you have to treat it like a job,” he said. “If I get a good idea, I get real productive.”
Consequently, entire days can be spent at his vintage draft table, working in bursts that coincide with inspiration.
Subjects that intrigue him can range from ranch hands at work to simple portraits of Native Americans, their faces frozen in quiet contemplation.
Graham’s art has taken him to lands far and near, including many years in California, where he rubbed elbows with celebrities and art world elites.
But at the end of the day, his heart belongs to Texas.
THE ART OF LIVING
Peel back the layers of Graham’s life and there’s plenty to learn about the man behind the canvas.
His talent seems rooted in childhood.
“My dad doodled a lot,” he said “He was probably a genius. He was a tool and die maker.”
Almost from the time he could grasp a pencil, Graham said his late father encouraged him to explore the world through art.
The pair spent countless, happy hours drawing together.
The efforts paid off, through local recognition and awards, then college scholarships, which helped Graham complete his art and English degree from Stephen F. Austin State University.
He took a slight detour to serve the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, dismayed at first, but discovering later the experience helped land a position drawing for Hughes Aircraft.
Other opportunities opened up along with way, mostly in art direction and advertising, allowing Graham to spend many immersive hours touring art galleries far and near.
Eventually he returned to East Texas to be closer to family, opening a gallery in Gladewater where he offered western art, framing and antiques until retiring to pursue art full time.
He still teaches on occasion and pitches in to assist with community events, such as helping with the Gladewater Museum and Art Stroll.
His influence on the local art scene is evident, appearing in unexpected places such as limited edition posters for the Gladewater Rodeo and downtown murals.
Most days, however, are devoted to preserving images of his imagination, available for purchase by calling 903-315-6563.
“It’s been an interesting life,” he said with a grin. “For some people, the almighty dollar is important. My dad passed away when I was young … maybe that’s part of my playing it loose all these years. I’ve just always had confidence in myself.”
TWITTER @ TMT _ Jacque