Charles M. Russell

Laugh Kills Lonesome, 1925, Mackay Collection, Helena, Montana

Some of my readers will be surprised to learn that I have a large oil reproduction of Laughing Kills Lonesome hanging in my office right along with my Marcel Duchamp and my German expressionists and my Georgia O’Keefe. It is just so middle America, so western-wannabe-a-cowboy fantasy straight out of a Holiday Inn lobby in Boise, Idaho. Where is the art?

Well, it’s right there.

Loops and Swift Horses are Surer than Lead, 1916, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Art comes in more than one form. There is the cutting edge, breathtaking intellectual art of a Picasso or Dali of Miro or Duchamp. But there is also the art that comes out of pure romanticism, out of childish delight and love, and that is every bit as artistic as the other, just different.

Charles Russell was a cowboy—an honest to God, dyed in the wool, work from get-on-to-get-off cowboy. And he absolutely adored his life. Adored it. And he went out of his way in some 2000 paintings to share it with us.

Buffalo Hunt

He lived in Montana for most of his life. He became an artist almost by accident. He could have been the darling of his age in polite society had he so chosen. Instead he preferred the people of his world, the west. He preferred a good rope and a cutting horse and a sky so huge and close it was like God about to bite you off the earth like a crisp of apple. He had no pretensions and no pie in the sky ambitions. He wanted us to know what it was like to live his life and the lives of others in the west; he felt priveleged and lucky to be able to share it with us.

Waiting and Mad, 1899, Indianapolis Museum of Art

He showed us people hard at work, and he showed us people letting their hair down. His paintings told stories. They were peopled with real friends and neighbors who felt honored to be in them. He admired and respected the Native Americans and painted what I believe to be the most loving, natural, and fun painting of an Indian woman in all of art.

He was a pistol, a humdinger, and a hatful of whoop-ass. He adored his life.

How about you, podnuh? Do you adore your life? Why the hell not? That, my friend—to live the life you most desire—that is the only art that really matters in the end.

The Herd Quitter

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4 Responses to Charles M. Russell

  1. Em says:

    Great post! Charles M. Russell is worth it. There is a sweet story about him here:

  2. Lowell McCormick says:

    About 20 years ago my boss showed me an envelope that he had received a letter in with a little doodle of some prairie grass on it. The letter had come from his friend in Montana (I think). He explained that people in that area did the doodles on envelopes as an homage to Charles Russell. I didn’t know who he was. When I got home that night my brother said, I got a new album by Mike Nesmith, I think you’ll like it. The first song was “Laugh Kills Lonesome” and there’s a line that says, “That why Charlie Russell painted it.” Two times in one day I had been schooled about Charles Russell. Thanks for posting the image of that painting. It looks just like I imagined it.

    • foxpudding says:

      Thank you so much. I didn’t know about the envelope doodles, and I think that is a delightful idea. I pledge to take it up myself. Good of you to share.

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