“Wanted Dead or Alive”

Steve McQueen stares at the viewer from a sitting position in the lefthand space — steely eyes, cowboy hat. Two stubby rifles dominate the righthand space: “A sidearm like nothing any lawman or outlaw had carried before — The MARE’S LEG Lever Action Pistol.”

Describing a painting under construction feels like explaining a joke before you tell it. Normally I’d let my picture embarrass itself personally, but I’m not yet shameless enough. I see so much really good work on other blogs that showing mine is like exposing a torso with love handles while in the company of rippling six-packs.

Rifle Hoist, JMN, 2018. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24 in. Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols, All rights reserved.

JMN2018, Rifle Hoist. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24 in. Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols, All rights reserved.

The Mare’s Leg is a pistol because it can be holstered, a repeating rifle because you can jack torrents of hot lead from it. It must have been the AR-15 of the factitious Wild West in which “Josh Randall” operated as bounty hunter.

I devoured that TV series and others like it as a kid. Why am I at such cross purposes now with the gun culture that raised me? My dad left West Texas ranch life behind to become a college educator five-hundred miles away. But he returned to that life thematically throughout his long second career as an artist.

I fled Texas as soon as I could to become… a college educator fifteen-hundred miles away! Jeez. The last thing I wanted was to follow in his footsteps. We weren’t that close. Yet here I am in the Lone Star state again, living in his house, painting guns….

JMN2018 Justice of the Piece, Oil on canvas. 18 x 18 in. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

JMN2018 Justice of the Piece, Oil on canvas. 18 x 18 in. (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

“Purge” film actor Ethan Hawke said, “We love guns. We love violence. And then we hate it when it happens. We have a weird dance with violence, as a country.” (NYTimes)

I’ve hesitated to use that quote because I want this blog to favor wit and celebration over polemics. I point out only that a reverse strategy lay behind Mark Antony’s line, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” There’s something of that in my mediocre parade of rootin’ tootin’ gun toters, except I invert his reversal. “Mischief, thou art afoot.”

JMN2018 Go Ahead, Make My Tea. Oil on canvas, 18 x 18 in. (Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

JMN2018 Go Ahead, Make My Tea. Oil on canvas, 18 x 18 in. (Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

HJN died here in 2013, leaving me a ton of blank canvases and supplies. I guess I’ll die here, too. I hope that’s a long time away, though. These canvases need to be messed up first.

JMN2018 Hoss. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. (c) James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

JMN2018 Hoss. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. (c) James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

(Copyright 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.)

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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2 Responses to “Wanted Dead or Alive”

  1. Life is full of ironies…but you are making excellent use of your inherited canvases and supplies. Hoss is an iconic character, and your painting captures his personality brilliantly. I am looking forward to seeing more of your work. ‘Go Ahead, Make My Tea’ — now that is just funny. 😉

    • JMN says:

      Thank you for your kind comments! I’m badly bitten by the tongue-in-cheek bug. These paintings of old actors impersonating “cowboys” and gunslingers are done with a certain irony — but who’s to know?! Best regards…

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