On Making The Leap From Law & Order Man to Full Time Artist
“In stark contrast to the rural ranching life I came from, the cinematic and televised version of the Cowboy icon, alone in the wilderness, sexually viral and strong, who was curiously quite clean, manicured, manufactured and pristine – seldom a speck of dirt, sweat or failure of any kind.”
An Interview with B. Shawn Cox
Artwork by B. Shawn Cox
Shawn, we had a chat in Mum’s Garage, about your Bouffs, but now that you’re back for Wild West, we gotta talk about your western work. Like Bouff’s, it’s colorful and iconic, but there’s a cultural undercurrent. An element of the unsaid.
Most eloquently and accurately stated. I’m intrigued by the social mythology generated through popular culture and how it evolves over time. How meanings associated with this evolving collective social conscious mutuates over time. How we interact with the past visually and emotionally is often far removed from the reality of that past.
The viewer experiences an emotional tension brought on by nostalgia. Do you feel it too?
I resonate with the construct that we psychologically are collectively the sum of the decisions (or omissions) and experiences (real or imagined) we have had up to a given point in time. I very much am challenged with emotions and perceptions triggered by nostalgia.
Our memory is mutable – how we remember things over time is far from photographic and more infused with personal bias and internal narrative: More of a docudrama than a documentary.
Personally, it is somewhat easy for me to forget and not dwell on the past… though trinkets, sounds, songs, images from the past trigger will undoubtedly get the memories flowing.
Your cowboys have a feminine aura. Others are heroic, but playful, almost like comic books. Why do you depict them in pop culture polka dots or surrounded by flowers?
The masculine gender has dominated the American social mythology and our culture for centuries. As media and entertainment became more and more influential on society, this masculine patriarchy and dominant character generally played both the role as hero and narrator in the evolving social mythology. Stereotypical roles from the social mythology fed the entertainment industry. In stark contrast to the rural ranching life I came from, the cinematic and televised version of the Cowboy icon, alone in the wilderness, sexually viral and strong, who was curiously quite clean, manicured, manufactured and pristine – seldom a speck of dirt, sweat or failure of any kind.
I found an interesting parallel not in the 40/50’s housewife, but instead the iconic idealized beauty of burlesque performers of the time. These women were alone on a stage, performing as powerful, sexually charged superwomen …that set a level of dominance and control over those who dared look upon them. Blending images to create a composite of both creates a challenge to both narratives. The decorative aspect of modern pattern, floral decoration and domesticity is a graphic play to parallel these merged icons.
Would you still be painting cowboys if you were a New Yorker rather than a Texan?
If I was instead born and raised in New York, it would be unlikely I would be painting cowboys.. I believe that there is a level of authenticity tied to a quirkiness of my viewpoint that resonates in this work that would otherwise not exist if I lacked the experiences of a ranching life.
In the movies, a cowboy is motivated by love or vengeance. What motivates you?
I’m motivated to connect and create. I believe, though it took a long time to manifest, this internal drive to create the art/ideas/visions I want to see in the world is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me going late into the night.
What is your origin story?
I was born in Lubbock Texas while my parents were in college. My parents were high school sweethearts from a small town in West Texas. Dad was from a ranching/farming family and my mother’s family was in the oil industry and were teachers. My parents decided to become teachers and I grew up out in the country outside of Monahans, Texas. Dad made sure that my brother and I knew how to work the land and raise animals. He ranched on the side and we worked on the weekend for larger ranchers in the area.
I know you were almost a law & order man. How’d you make that transition from lawyer to artist? Did you always know deep down that you were meant to travel another path?
Even in law school, I would take electives in Art. Art was always my escape. While working as an attorney in Houston, I took night classes to hone my skills painting and drawing at Glassell. My wife would send me to painting workshops as birthday and holiday gifts.
Making and creating was always a part of what made me tick.
Do you have any advice for artists who might want to follow in your footsteps?
Wear comfortable shoes with good arch supports. Art is about making, creating and failing forward. I would recommend taking time and devoting energy to explore what’s out there, decide and know what kind of work you would like to see in the world. I believe this changes over time as we evolve and explore. The process of discovering how and why Your Work is what you want/need to make and how it manifests the vision becomes incrementally the evolving blueprint for your artistic career. The more you know about who you are, why you believe this construct after testing it and questioning it over and over… coupled with taking the time to learn (giving yourself to fail) at the skills necessary to master any given medium you decide to explore.
Are you a white hat or a black hat?
If you put black/white hat filter on me…I’m betting you will see stripes or polka dots.
About the Artist
Born and raised in far west Texas, B Shawn Cox ran from a ranching life gaining degrees in Architecture and Law along the way. After years of diverse business experiences and diversions, he is focused and compelled to create. His current body of work is a re-exploration and commentary of memories, understandings, and perceptions — some real, some imagined and most often adulterated. This exploration of both internal and external stories becomes visual expression of his Why and an understanding of the world as well as his place in this world.