Steve Boaldin makes a statement in Oklahoma's art scene 

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There’s just something about cowboys.

From the public library to Hollywood, from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to HBO’s Westworld, the romantic legend of the American cowboy has cemented itself in our national consciousness as much as baseball and Election Day.

He’s rugged, uncompromising and unafraid to go it alone; we love the cowboy’s independence while empathizing with his loneliness.

While clutching to our comforts while he’s mending fence in a blizzard, we still envy his freedom.

Through his labor, he allows us to imagine that we, too, could pick up one day and drive the herd to Montana.

Cowboys reflect so much of what’s good about America, and maybe that’s the reason Edmond artist Steve Boaldin is so passionate about preserving cowboy culture through his painting.

“I just have such a good feeling about it, and I think a lot of people do,” said Boaldin of the cowboy way of life. “It’s in my blood. It’s how I was raised. I think a lot of people feel the same way I do about it, but they don’t know how to express it. This is just my way of keeping it alive. It’s a romantic art. It’s a romantic way of life, even though it’s hard. It’s still classic Americana, though. It’s the American dream for a lot of people.”

Boaldin, 54, was raised on an 8,000-acre cattle ranch in Elkhart, Kansas, a tiny map dot on an endless, sunbaked skillet just over the border from the Oklahoma panhandle.

He migrated south to Oklahoma City over 30 years ago, when he attained a degree in commercial art.

He spent most of the next three decades working as a graphic designer and illustrator for The Oklahoman and Mardel. However, three months ago, the latest rounds of layoffs at The Oklahoman thrust Boaldin into the realm of the full-time artist, a move that he’s making the most of.

“I hope it keeps going, but so far, so good,” said Boaldin. “I showed in the Clifton Classic in Clifton, Texas, this year, which is a great stepping stone for bigger shows. There are three galleries handling my work right now, and I’m going to keep supplying them with new stuff. Other than that, I’m going to enter the Prix de West and Small Works[, Great Wonders] shows at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.”

Displaying his work at the formerly named Cowboy Hall of Fame fulfills one of Boaldin’s goals and was decades in the making.

“It’s probably the finest Western show in the world,” Boaldin said. “It’s a place where you can get known. People come from all over the world to see shows there, and so as far as I’m concerned, if you can get your work in there, you’ve done something pretty good.”

His work merits consideration. Ultra-realistic, honest portraits of cowboys are Boaldin’s specialty, and his pieces gently swerve between hyper-detailed and loose, almost watercolor paintings.

His “action shots” of cowboys plying their trade are reminiscent of old rodeo posters or 1950s magazine covers.

His charcoal sketches of old cowhands, which showcase his illustrator chops while simultaneously lending a colorless Old West feel to the work, are especially interesting.

Boaldin’s illustration days saw him paint subjects from Donald Trump to Russell Westbrook, but his heart is still on horseback, driving the herd.

When asked how he would describe his work, the lifelong cowboy doesn’t mention technique or genre.

Instead, he mentions maybe the most un-cowboy thing ever: emotions.

“To me, it’s all about the feeling you get,” he said. “I want to create a feeling, an emotion that people pick up, even though they may not even know what they’re feeling. It’s just in my heart, and I want people to see that when they look at my paintings.”

Print headline: Go west, Steve Boaldin’s Western paintings feature cowboys in action.

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