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Capturing the Modern Cowboy

Meet Duke Beardsley, a Sixth-Generation Coloradan Whose Work Explores the Spirit of the Classic Cowboy With a Completely Contemporary Lens

Article by Katherine Owen

Photography by Courtesy of the artist

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

On any given day, particularly during branding season in the spring, you might find Colorado artist Duke Beardsley on some of the most stunning ranches in the West. Sometimes that of friends; sometimes his own, like the one he grew up visiting in eastern Colorado. Now, year after year, week after week, he still regularly makes the drive between his home in Denver to the world of cowboys and cattle. But to Duke, it’s not as distant as people think.

“The separation between rural and urban, ranch and city is more in our heads than anything,” he says. “Part of what I hope to do in challenging and modernizing this iconography for myself is make it relatable to people who don’t spend their time in a saddle or fixing fence. So they can experience it for themselves.”

Growing up sixth generation Coloradan, Duke has had more than his fair share of experience. Today when he goes out to work on ranches, he’s gathering inspiration for his art, but only in between putting in the work.

“I love being horseback as much as I can. Because I grew up doing it, a lot of the ranches will just put me to work. So I’m just part of the crew for the day or the week or the weekend, whatever they’re doing,” he explains. “What I’m really just going for is to be in it–to feel it. I think that really, for me, it’s essential to experience that all the time so when I go back to drawing and painting, I feel it. I’ve been there. Then, when someone who knows that world looks at my work and says, ‘You got that right,’ boy, that really feels good. Because I have done an awful lot of it.”

His camera and sketchbooks go with him. But the art comes to fruition later, at home in his studio in Denver where he sorts through thousands of images and all the quick 10-15 second gestural sketches he made to study the nuances of the form and movement of the horses and their riders. Then it all comes back to life on canvas, where everything starts as a charcoal drawing before Duke layers on acrylic paint followed by layers of oil paint.

“I’m very influenced by the color palette of the pop art movement,” he explains. “And so those bright, saturated primary and secondary colors, they just speak to me. It’s just such a fun juxtaposition against the traditional Western iconography.”

Duke says that with something as beloved as Western art and iconography, a traditional artistic approach is tempting; it can be lucrative in terms of recognition, awards and earnings. But as someone who likes to, as he puts it, “shake the snow globe” in order to see things differently, there’s no reward in that for Duke.

“The temptation for me is very real, but I’m not happy there,” he says. “I want to push the art and myself outside the confines of convention. I grew up loving the traditional giants of Western art, like Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. I knew their work inside and out, basically by heart…But I grew up in the 1970s in the suburbs of Denver with a cattle ranch outside of town. And the West I grew up in was entirely different than the one they portrayed. So I want to portray our West, our time.”

See the West through Duke’s eyes at Altamira Fine Art, which represents Duke and has galleries in Jackson, Wyoming and Scottsdale, Arizona. Or see more of his work at or follow him on Instagram at @DukeBeardsleyStudio.