Cowboy at Heart

Southwest Art, May 2010

By Mark Mussari

Scott Myers remembers walking into his high school guidance counselor’s office to discuss his future. “I told him I wanted to be a cowboy,” says Myers, who was born and raised in Fort Worth, TX. From early childhood, Myers had always been captivated by the rodeo and livestock, and he knew that was the direction he wanted to take. “Though I wasn’t born on a ranch, I always wanted to ride and rope,” he explains. “It was part of our culture.”

“Clearfork” Oil 16″ x 12″

Seeing as how Myers was president of the school’s National Honor Society, his counselor was unimpressed with the teenager’s career choice. He went through a list of possible professions, finally asking Myers, “How about becoming a veterinarian?” That was an inspired suggestion for a young man who had grown up loving horses and cattle, and who had spent most of his childhood drawing them.

“The only way to settle me down as a kid was to put a pencil in my hand,” Myers recalls. That was easy enough for his parents to do; his father sketched frequently, and his mother was gifted in crafts. “Though no one had any formal training, everyone in my family was visually oriented,” Myers says. “My art was always encouraged. If there was an art show, we’d go.”

In junior high he visited galleries and art museums. His art teacher encouraged him and gave Myers his first taste of being a professional artist. “She would take my art into the teachers’ lounge and sell it,” he remembers. In high school he had to decide between football and rodeo; the cowboy in him won. He began competing in rodeos, primarily as a tie-down calf-roper. Upon graduation, however, Myers took his guidance counselor’s advice and attended Texas A&M University to study veterinary medicine.

Meanwhile, during summer breaks he worked on ranches in Texas and Montana. “I knew my experience with horses and cattle would help me one day,” he notes. It was also a way to be exposed to the subject matter he loved to draw. While in veterinary school, Myers made money selling his original artwork to high-end customers, then used the profits to make prints that he sold to friends. It was a lucrative business. “I actually took a pay cut to become a vet,” he says.

As a practicing veterinarian he continued to accept commissions, often getting up at 4 a.m. to paint or sculpt. One profession fed into the other: When he saw a mare and newborn foal, he made thumbnail sketches and took notes. To further his artistic development, he signed up for classes at the Scottsdale Artists’ School and the Fechin Institute in Taos.

“I’ve always had the desire to paint and sculpt—an inner voice that speaks to me,” Myers explains. From 1990 to 2002, he mostly sculpted. He took three trips to Italy to study sculpture in Florence and Rome, even working in a foundry in Pietrasanta, in Tuscany, to learn everything he could about the process. Today, his sculpture can be found in Pietrasanta’s Museo dei Bozzetti. Myers’ bronze pieces—ranging from cowboys and horses to wildlife and figurative works—have won awards in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He continues to sculpt on commission and describes his sculpture as “more eclectic” than his painting.

He also continues to work as a vet several days a week, but Myers sold his own practice in 2002 so he could spend more time at the easel. He refers to himself as a western painter, and his background in rodeo, ranching, and veterinary work lends an informed authenticity to everything he does.

“Before the Storm” Oil 20″ x 24″

Myers often begins with photographs or plein-air studies before working on canvas. He then lays paint down in blocks of color. This approach becomes evident when one gets closer to Myers’ paintings: Despite what looks, at first glance, like a naturalist approach, the artist’s brushwork reveals impressionistic swaths of color within the confines of recognizable form. The haunch of a horse, a section of riding chaps, a grassy field—specific areas often consist of myriad colors laid against each other for tonal and textural effect. “I want it to appear natural, so you can tell what it is,” explains Myers, “yet I’m striving for an organization of brush strokes.”

Myers is close to fellow Texas artist Martin Grelle, whom he views as a mentor. “I bring my paintings to his studio and we analyze them,” says Myers. Thanks to Grelle, who is a member of the Cowboy Artists of America, Myers says he’s learned to think more compositionally, to keep the viewer’s eye moving around the painting without obstruction. “I want to make sure people get in and out of the painting smoothly,” he adds. Myers has also acquired a more finely tuned chromatic sense from Grelle. “Martin has helped me with color harmony and how colors work together,” says Myers. “What’s unusual about Scott’s work,” says Grelle, “is that it is as loose and as colorful as it is,” whereas many other western artists are tighter and more detailed. “I’m not one to paint buttons,” Myers confirms wryly.

A subtle narrative defines Myer’s canvases: Cowboys pause on a hillside or midstream; a horse drinks from a crystalline lake while its rider breathes in the scenery; ranch hands ride the range as a storm approaches. “I want the viewer to be able to finish the story,” says the artist. A sense of space pervades these scenes as well, and the landscape seems particularly impressionistic in lighting and looser brush strokes. Monet-like layers of color, for example, can define distant mountains, and trees and grasses are a medley of strokes that the eye then gathers into shapes.

“Good Neighbors” Oil 28″ x 36″

A subliminal sense of movement also surfaces in his paintings. Take GOOD NEIGHBORS, for example, a piece depicting three cowhands who have stopped by a fence. Two of the horses face in opposite directions. “It’s natural,” explains Myers, “because horses are fidgety.” The position of their heads also reflects angles of perspective leading the eye back along the fence into the landscape beyond the men. Fence posts echo the leaning trees in the background. On closer inspection, a light gray horse is revealed to be comprised of bright yellow, white, and lavender strokes. Distant mountains are bands of blue shadows. “These are areas of abstraction,” he affirms.

Myers maintains a studio near his home in Granbury, TX, which he shares with his wife, Kathi, and their teenage daughter, Mallory. “It’s a free-standing building behind my house, which is real nice when I work on big projects,” says the artist. And he’s thankful that his veterinary training instilled a strong sense of discipline. “I’ve been taught to get everything done within a specific time,” he notes. “That helps me to get in a groove when I’m painting.”

Because he has been given an ability, Myers says, he feels that he has a corresponding responsibility to pursue his art. As a teenager he was wise enough to accept the guidance of others to study a practical profession, yet he also knew enough to follow his own artistic path. It’s a rare person who gets to succeed at both.

Mark Mussari also writes for Luxe and Phoenix Home & Garden and is the author of numerous educational books and journal articles.

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