Cooling Off. Photography: Courtesy Lonesome Dove Gallery
Cooling Off. Photography: Courtesy Lonesome Dove Gallery

The artist has created custom works for art teachers and celebrities alike.

When it comes to painting, what inspires Robert Dove is “the pure beauty of capturing nature, horses, sunsets, etc. — the subject matter, the color, and taking a white canvas and making something of it.” And he’s exceptionally good at it. “I’ve had clients tell me that I captured the horse’s soul,” he says from his studio in Wichita Falls, Texas. “The look in the horse’s eyes reveals that. I feel that it is a God-given talent and this is why I paint.”

That talent started revealing itself early, though Dove didn’t focus on horses right away. One of his first pieces of artwork was as a first grader in Catholic school when he carved the Virgin Mary out of a large bar of Ivory soap. “When I was 13, I would sketch with pencil and use Marks-A-Lot to color hot rods onto T-shirts and then sell the T-shirts for $7 each — big money back then.” At 14, he worked at some local stables, where he learned a lot about horses and found a subject he’d stay with for life.

His love of art came naturally: “My creativity is from my dad, who did antique furniture upholstery. He was extremely talented.” When Dove’s own talent for art became evident in high school, his teachers told him not to worry about math and English and to just pursue his art. In college, he took some figure drawing classes and often sold his drawings to his art teachers. From there it was “practice, practice, practice — I just kept at it. I found what works for me, and over time I’ve come to my own style that I’m comfortable with.”

Some of that ease derives from his comfort with the horses and cowboy life he portrays. He’s well-acquainted with team roping and ranch sorting, and the familiarity informs his art. “The different positions you are in while roping or riding your horse help in portraying the action in my paintings accurately. It’s something you can’t capture with a camera or video. You are amongst the action. I get to see some of the best cowboys in the country. How they work their horses and the unique character of the cowboy — there are no two alike.”

Dove’s style resonates — sometimes mysteriously. He’s done work for clients that run the gamut from LeAnn Rimes and ZZ Top to Mastercard, Coca-Cola, Ocean Spray, and Texas Motor Speedway, but when it comes to telling stories about memorable paintings, Dove’s apt to recall specific instances of people making a profound personal connection. “I painted a landscape and showed it at an art show. A man looked at the painting and said that he had dreamed of this painting for five years. He bought it right then and there. Another time I painted a cowboy unsaddling his horse. A lady saw it at one of my art exhibits and said it looked just like her husband and his horse. I never met the man or saw his horse before. Of course she had to have the painting. And another time I was commissioned to do a painting of Randy White, the Dallas Cowboys football star, as a Western cowboy. When Randy saw the finished painting he asked if I had a photo of his horse. I replied, ‘No, I just made up a horse.’ Randy said, ‘That is my horse, Sarge.’”

For now, his studio is a two-car garage that he added windows to for correct lighting. “It faces my arena and barn, so it’s handy to use my horses for models for the correct composition,” Dove says. The gallery that displays and sells his work showcases another talent: custom jewelry and Western-accessory design. Dove does the creating and his wife, Kay, “pretty much runs everything, such as selling and talking with the customers,” he says. “She loves talking to our clients about creating a custom piece of jewelry or a fine painting that fits their lifestyle, which frees me up to work on custom orders.”

Sometimes Dove considers moving to New Mexico, but he’s Wichita Falls-born and -raised and is content to “see where the good Lord leads me.” It’s not just following that lead that keeps him in North Texas. “I’ve got a beautiful little ranch home and gallery right here. Wichita Falls is horse country; some of the ranches are among the biggest in Texas. I often go to Possum Kingdom, one of the prettiest lakes and best-kept secrets in the country. I’ll go to The Ranch, an equestrian facility on the lake. It has a beautiful 100-year-old barn that I can use as a studio to paint in. I take a couple of my horses and spend the weekend.”

Besides that, he says, there’s this essential Western artist’s truth: “A horse looks just as good here as any other place.”

See more of Robert Dove’s paintings and custom jewelry online.

From the October 2016 issue.