With a family connection to art, Edgar Sotelo focuses his art on what he knows best.
Edgar Sotelo likes to tell a story about being at the Phippen art show in Prescott, Arizona: “I was talking to some collectors about my art when I heard two cowboys in the background talking about one of the pieces. One of them said, ‘Hey, Dakota, that’s you in that painting!’ And the other cowboy replied, ‘I’ll be damned — that is me!’ I looked around, and, sure enough, they were two cowboys that worked at the Pitchfork Ranch during the spring roundup and had spotted themselves in the painting. They were doing some work at the O RO Ranch in Arizona. We had a good visit. Most cowboys work their whole life without much recognition. I was at least glad to give them this story that they could tell.”
The story Sotelo likes to tell in his art is of the traditional West. Known for his award-winning depictions of charreadas and contemporary ranch scenes, he lives with his wife, daughters, and a handful of prospect performance horses “my wife raises and I paint” on a small place called La Joya (The Jewel) south of Sulphur Springs, Texas. But his love for art first developed on the other side of the border in Juárez, where he was raised in a creative atmosphere. Both his grandfather and father were artists. At age 5, he was already showing some talent drawing horses, charros, and cowboys. “My father taught me how to draw horses from memory and to use some of the techniques and materials my grandfather had used. I think one of my most memorable memories was when my dad [showed me] the murals he helped paint in some government buildings around Durango City. That made a lasting impression on me.”
Though he took his parents’ advice to avoid becoming a starving artist by getting a real job, Sotelo kept at his drawing. He graduated from Texas Tech University in 1988, having paid for part of his tuition by selling pencil sketches and gotten his first commission from then-professor Dr. Jim Heird, and pursued a career in the food industry. “I did well in corporate America,” he says, “but I always had a passion for art and did it on weekends and late at night.”
Along the way, he has learned from some of the best, including Paul Milosevich and current and former Cowboy Artists of America members Martin Grelle, Bruce Greene, Jim Norton, Ned Jacob, and Loren Entz. He’s also been guided in important ways by wife Michelle. She urged him to try oils in the early ’90s and brought him back to art when the death of their 9-year-old daughter in a horse accident in 2003 caused him to abandon painting.
“Ariana wanted to be an artist. She showed good talent at a young age,” Sotelo says. “[After she died,] the image would come to my mind of her saying, ‘Hey, let’s go paint,’ and me saying, ‘No, I’m too busy.’ There was a great opportunity to make an impact on a child’s life, and I didn’t do it. That was my precious moment, and I just blew it. I couldn’t live with it. I said to myself, I’m not going to paint anymore. I didn’t touch a brush, had no interest in doing that, for several years.”
One day his wife told him they needed to talk, sat him down, and asked a transformative question: “If you had the opportunity to ask Ariana what you should do, paint or not paint, what do you think her answer would be?” Ever since then, Sotelo says, he’s painted. “No one had heard from me or seen me in two years. I had completely changed my way of painting. People noticed a difference. I guess you put more emotion in and learn to express yourself in a more emotional way. Finally the healing process started.”
Today, whether he’s happily taking the time to pass on skills to his other artistic daughters, working on a commission (Texas A&M University has commissioned both the signature piece for its new veterinary education complex and feature artwork for the executive board room at the Equine Initiative), or riding with cowboys he’s observing for future artworks, Sotelo’s devoting himself full time to painting and loving every minute. It’s not just a way to preserve the Western tradition, he says. “It’s a passion, an escape, and a therapy.”
From the November/December 2016 issue.