More than 30 artworks by San Antonio artist Raul Gutierrez are on view at the Beeville Art Museum in an exhibit titled A Texan’s View of Yesterday’s Texas. On view through April 4, Gutierrez’s distinctive watercolors, oil paintings, and charcoal drawings of the unspoiled Texas landscape reflect his childhood experience with cowboys and the borderlands, and showcase his knack for capturing the spirit of the Old West.
“I was fascinated with the cowboy life from an early age.”
Born in Laredo in 1935, Gutierrez moved with his family when he was 15 to San Antonio, where he was awarded an art scholarship to the Hunter Art School. After serving in the Army in Korea, Gutierrez worked as an illustrator for the Pentagon, then as a cartoonist and illustrator for the San Antonio Light for 18 years. A fan of wide-open spaces since he was young, the artist also owned a small ranch west of Boerne for a time.
Gutierrez’s Western art resides in the collections of former Mexican president Miguel Alemán Valdés, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and country star George Strait, to name a few.
TH: I’ve always thought Laredo would be an interesting place to grow up. How did spending your early years in the borderlands influence your development as an artist?
Gutiterrez: Where we lived, you only had to go three blocks and you were out in the country. I got to visit a lot of little ranches and see working cowboys. Sometimes, they’d even let me ride the horses and help out. So I was fascinated with the cowboy life from an early age.
TH: How do you imbue your Old West scenes with such authentic atmosphere and detail?
Gutierrez: You have to see the way people’s faces looked back in those days, how they lived. I have lots of books full of vintage photographs, and I study the works of Charlie Russell, Frederic Remington, and other painters. Russell’s colors were more authentic, and his Indians looked more like Indians. Remington was more proficient with cavalry, horses, action. Of course, I’ve studied Old World masters, too. When my wife and I went to Spain, I made sure to visit the Prado to see the paintings of Velázquez.
TH: Your depictions of prickly pear, mesquites, and other South Texas flora are so rich.
Gutierrez: Cactus is one of my favorite subjects. When you drive south from San Antonio to Corpus or Laredo, the prickly pear is very different in shape and color. It’s a pastel green with some blue—here in San Antonio it’s greener and smaller. So I would cut some cactus from the roadside, take it back to my studio and throw it on the ground. A year later, it would be a thriving plant I could paint.
TH: You’re also a poet and a songwriter.
Gutierrez: My whole family was very musical. They called my aunt, Rosita Fernandez, “San Antonio’s First Lady of Song.” I sang with a band for 30 years, Raul and the M.D.s. The other members were all doctors. We did boleros, Sinatra, rock ‘n’ roll, everything. We don’t perform as much now. I’m 84, but I still paint every day. I want to leave my art as my signature, something people will appreciate long after I’m gone.