Cloudscapes: Mark Maggiori
As I drive to his studio from Old Agoura Hills, the thunderheads I mentioned follow me like loyal steers before they stampeded above the Hollywood Hills in wild configurations, textures, and swirls. The smell of virga is in the air.
I find the French, Los Angeles-based artist in his garage studio. Like Hagege’s studio, it is filled with southwestern relics, cattle skulls, art books (like “Chasing Rainbows”, “Cowboys, A Vanishing World”, and “Art of the Golden West”), as well as Stetsons and Halvstad’s with feathers tucked in their bands.
The sweet lull of a dobro plays on a speaker, though I learn, sometimes Maggiori plays Slipknot and System of a Down while he paints—the artist spent years touring internationally as the lead singer of a nu metal band called Pleymo and beyond music and singing and painting, he’s also an accomplished music video director.
When I look at Maggiori, walking from his studio into his 1968 black Malibu Chevelle parked in his driveway (where he suggested I conduct interview) I notice his well-worn blue jeans, Heritage boots, and smattering of tattoos including (among many) a Zia sun symbol, a thunderbird, and the words “FAR” on one of his arms and “WEST” on the other.
I survey the scruffy chapparal of the canyon he and his wife, artist and creative director Petecia Le Fawnhawk, and their newly born daughter, Wilderness, call home. The threatening thunderheads above, and Maggiori opening the door of his mechanical steed, it isn’t hard to see him a modern version of one of his mythical cowboy subjects, like the rugged lead in his painting “Thunderhead Riders” (2016).
“It's interesting how the subconscious acts,” Maggiori says to me as we sit on the black leather seats of the Chevelle, the doors open wide—the smell of far away rain, “I remember going back to visit my parents two or three years ago in France. It was August and I remember noticing how many big, beautiful, puffy cumulonimbus clouds there were—the type of clouds I love. I remember saying to my mom, ‘I don't remember this from being a kid’. She said, ‘It was like this all the time in the summer. Clouds all the time.’”
Maggiori, 41, is a multidisciplinary artist best known (at least recently) for his own highly nostalgic take on what he describes as the “golden era” of the West, documenting cowboys, Native Americans, and western landscapes typically with thunderheads bursting in the sky in “luminous realism” as put by Southwest Art Magazine.
Beau Alexander describes his unique take on the West, “Maggiori’s paintings are unique in that they are a perspective on the West by someone not brought up in the culture of the West. Rather it is a voice from someone that studied the past and the ways of the West, which naturally creates a nostalgic perspective.”
“Mark has focused his art on the history of the West in an almost photo realist style depicting cowboys in the wild,” he continues, “Maggiori goes to great lengths to have the cowboys depicted accurately and he will use colors and techniques learned in his photo and film days to create a more dramatic scene.”
Maggiori’s work is not only winning notable awards and selling in traditional auctions and galleries, but has also dominated the world’s biggest virtual gallery, amassing a collection of over 81.7K on Instagram.
“The first time I started painting clouds was in art school,” he tells me mentioning Paris’ well-known Academie Julian when I ask about his famous clouds that dominate the skylines of his paintings (one of which, “After A Summer Rain” (2018) depicting two cowboys on horseback reflected in a puddle in a red rocked landscape recently sold at auction for $45,000), “We had an assignment where our teacher had us paint one of the seven deadly sins.”
“I ended up doing fornicatio [lust and fornification] and I basically did an orgy, but with clouds,” he says laughing, before jestfully describing the bodies and bosoms and acts he embedded into the layers of the clouds. “It was crazy and also quite funny and I actually ended up getting a good mark on the assignment.”
“I didn't paint for years after art school though,” he says, “but when I went West and lived in Arizona and got outside a lot, the clouds started to come back to me. I began painting western scenes and there was this call to the clouds because when you're out there, you're pretty much just with the ground and the sky,” Maggiori says. “So the presence of any clouds, especially when you're facing a huge thunderhead in the desert during monsoon season, it’s so...sudden, thrilling, and amazing.”
In “Purple Haze” (2019) (winner of this year’s Don B. Huntley Spirit of the West Award, the Autry Museum’s Masters of the American West) a pair of cowboys descend a canyon on horseback, making their way through sagebrush as the sky above them is lit with the most intense colors of sunset. Even though Maggiori’s storm clouds in the painting have been softened grapefruit and periwinkles by the golden hour—don’t be fooled. They are menacing. They are hell with the hide off.
Unlike Hagege’s clouds which tend to highlight and accentuate his subject(s), Maggiori’s clouds seem to be their very own character, just as much of a subject as the two cowboys and their blizzard white horses. They remind me of the lively chorus of singing clouds in Aristophanes’ The Clouds. But in many of Maggiori’s paintings, the sky wanderers play villain; a reminder that the West is full of peril and that the natural threats of nature—lightning, flash floods, hail, downpour, and resulting hypothermia—are boundless.
Alexander gives insight on Maggiori’s nearly photo-realistic clouds, “One aspect [Maggiori] used in many of his paintings are the large scale clouds that can be found in the desert. Artists use clouds in their works as design elements to keep viewers intrigued, in paintings of the West, the clouds can feel exaggerated or made from imagination. But if you’ve ever visited the desert, you know it’s really an accurate depiction.”
One of Maggiori’s inspirations to begin painting the West, he tells me, came from seeing a Frederic Remington in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2013. In one of the late artist’s most well known paintings, “The Stampede” (1908) Remington paints a cowboy galloping through a downpour, lighting lancing the scene—you can hear the cattle stomping across the plains and the echoes of similar drama ring in Maggiori’s paintings especially “Riders in the Storm” (2017).
“My eyes just fell on beautiful western art,” Maggiori says, “and so it’s what I ended up wanting to paint because it reminded me of so many of my own experiences of the West. The scenes are so exciting, so beautiful, and they have this dreamlike quality. There is just so much I love about it.”
There is a soft boom of thunder when I exit Maggiori’s Chevelle. It rumbles and carries itself through the canyon in gentle shakes that rattle like a diamondback’s tail.
After I part with the artist, he goes back into his garage, presumably to continue working on his work he’s titled (at least for now) “Descending Trio” in preparation for an upcoming show in Jackson Hole later this fall.
And when I leave and follow the winding road into to the mouth of the canyon, I begin to hear a familiar pitter patter of big, voluptuous raindrops hitting the glass of my windshield and the steel hood of my car and I can practically see the petrichor making its way to me through my open windows after it hits the pavement, steams, and rises like hummingbirds and migrating painted ladies from chaparral honeysuckle.
I soon puncture the white sheet of downpour that envelopes my car and just before I turn onto a busy Sunset Boulevard, I look in my rearview mirror at the Hollywood Sign among the green and purple and orange and blue hills of Griffith Park.
California has been obscured in rain-giving clouds all winter long and at least for now, is officially out of its seven-year drought.
A ~super bloom~ celebrates on our hillsides.