“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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