Jonathan Twingley, Urban Cowboy Artist
Read about the illustrator's fascination with bull riding, and see a slideshow of his work.
The East Coast illustrator came to rodeo artwork by way of a North Dakota upbringing, so he knows bull riding is a daunting occupation. “They have a finite career like any athlete, maybe even shorter,” says Jonathan Twingley. “I can’t think of another sport where bravery is a prerequisite to going into the game like that. It’s a pretty serious deal.” That was his net take-away after attending the PBR Madison Square Garden Invitational in New York City earlier this year. “The most surreal part was afterward walking to the subway passing the trailers that held the bulls. They were sticking their snouts out in the shadow of the Empire State Building, huffing and puffing.”
Not quite the context the 39-year-old artist was familiar with growing up in Bismarck, where he worked as a taco slinger and rode horses recreationally. He frequented rodeos in nearby Mandan and in Killdeer, where his great-grandfather had ridden bareback. “Today some of these young guys are wearing hockey helmets and what look like bulletproof vests. The garb has changed, but the character and spirit of these riders probably has not changed that much since my great-grandfather rode 90 years ago,” Twingley says.
The artist moved from North Dakota to New York in the ’90s to obtain a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts. He found work early on illustrating for The New York Times and The Washington Post then published his book, The Badlands Saloon, about the characters frequenting the local watering hole of a North Dakota town. “It’s sort of a love letter to those small towns and that small-town way of life in North Dakota and Texas and Oklahoma that is really going away,” Twingley laments.
His newest project is a series of rodeo illustrations created with acrylic, pen, ink, and colored pencil. The images of rodeo competitors, coaches, press, and handlers have a narrative, gestural quality — and plenty of cowboy hats and boots, leather gloves, bucking broncos, and crazy athletic angles. Twingley says he’s tried to get that rodeo attitude just right: “These guys have to be super-confident, but they can’t be too cocky, either, because they’re at the mercy of these massive animals when the gate opens. It seems to me that there’s not a lot of room for arrogance.”