10 Mark Maggiori Prints that Capture the Spirit of the West
Few contemporary artists have done more to replenish Western art with fresh viewpoints as Mark Maggiori, whose recent solo show proved scenes from the frontier are alive and well.
In March 2023, The Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale hosted Mark Maggiori’s solo show “Beyond the Golden Skies,” the culmination of several years of painting in his Taos studio.
The show included 28 of Maggiori’s recent works, from large, sweeping landscapes to smaller pencil sketches of Western life. In a talk about his artistic journey, Maggiori said his eclectic background is embedded into each of his works.
“They tell about our journey in this life, the paths that we are walking on everyday,” Maggiori said of his paintings, “and our constant will to leave, to push further, to walk towards the light, toward the sun, toward the West.”
The French-born artist’s own path toward the West is hardly traditional: he’s been in a nu metal band, directed music videos and loves vintage fashion. His first views of the Southwest came as a wide-eyed teenager on a classic American road trip, and today his unique approach to representing the West has captured the attention of a passionate and growing audience, particularly on Instagram.
While all of his work represents elements of the West, here are ten Maggiori prints and paintings that truly capture the essence of the wild places, storied people and contentious histories of the frontier.
Summers in Arizona can be downright brutal, but starting in June, a shift in wind patterns brings moisture up from Mexico, resulting in the state’s famous monsoon season.
The monsoon also sets the stage for large, billowing thunderheads that engulf the horizon on many a summer afternoon and evening — the same clouds that are a signature feature in many of Maggiori’s paintings.
“To me they represent nature and the force of nature, and it brings a tension to the painting that you wouldn’t have with blue sky,” Maggiori said in an interview with Cowboys & Indians. “The clouds in the composition are a character that brings something to the painting and adds to the story.”
Maggiori’s cloudscapes are by turns photorealistic and surreal, crafted with a depth that looks all too familiar if you’ve ever watched a monsoon storm explode over distant hills. And if you haven’t, Maggiori’s paintings are about as close as you’ll get to the real thing.
In works like “Sonoran Magnetism,” the clouds’ presence is palpable: a not-so-subtle reminder that life in the West is often framed by the grandeur and power of Mother Nature.
Once Upon a Time
“Once Upon a Time,” in Mark’s words, refers to “a way of going back to the beginning and re-telling” the story of black cowboys in the American West.
After the Civil War, freed African-Americans with experience driving cattle could find reliable jobs as cowboys on the expanding frontier, and estimates claim at one point, one in every four cowboys was black.
“The African American experience raises a different lens to an old tale,” wrote William Loren Katz in The Black West. “Its close-ups add new dimensions to buried truths and its wide angles reveal heroes who still stand in the shadows.”
Of course, you won’t see this in most traditional media — movies, art, novels, even history books — and Maggiori believes this painting may be one of the first to portray working black cowboys on horseback.
According to Larry Callies, one of the cowboys in the painting, there are also few photos of black cowboys from the 19th century because they were largely excluded from company events “for tax purposes,” among others.
Callies, a fifth-generation cowboy himself, runs The Black Cowboy Museum in Rosenburg, Texas, where his collection of historic memorabilia is more than 25 years in the making.
Today, “Once Upon a Time” is part of the permanent collection at Briscoe Western Art Museum, an organization recognizing the need to update misconceptions of race in the Old West.
“The Seeker” was included in Briscoe Museum’s Night of Artists in 2020, and the limited edition print was released in June 2020. It was also the first Maggiori print I snagged, and to this day, my favorite.
The oil-on-linen work depicts a wooly mountain man framed by Maggiori’s signature clouds and swaying desert sagebrush. It has a distinct air of “forward,” the word Maggiori used to describe himself in an interview with Southwest Art magazine. “I think that I’m a person in motion, always trying to move forward, to be better and do better.”
As a born-and-raised Phoenician, I’m reminded of the legend of the Lost Dutchman in “The Seeker,” and though Jacob Waltz — the Dutchman who was actually German — missed the peak mountain man period of the early 19th century, there was still plenty of seeking done in the Superstition Mountains in the 1870s. The quest for lost gold in the Supes continued into the 20th century, but usually didn’t end well.
Arizona’s expansive skies and unobstructed horizons make for incredible sunsets, and in the moments just before the sun finally slips away, the day’s last light can whip up a fury of warm purple and orange tones (shoutout to Phoenix Suns fans).
It’s not just local lure: Arizona’s sunsets really are more vivid. The desert’s aridity — especially when a summer wind kicks up fine dust particles — makes for a less “filtered” and fractured sunset than you’d see in a large, more polluted or humid city.
And where sunsets in much of the country may be blocked by nearby trees, wide open spaces in the Grand Canyon state make it easy to catch stellar sunset views, especially if you’re willing to hike up to a higher elevation nearby.
“That day, the sky was overcast all day,” Maggiori said of this stunning canyon landscape. “Just before sunset it all opened up and these crazy thunderheads appeared; a heavenly light took over the sky and everything around us looked purple.”
For hundreds of thousands of migrants in the 1800s, few aspects of the journey west were as perilous as river crossings. Along with accidents and diseases like cholera, river crossings were responsible for countless deaths on the emigrant trails, and even a relatively tame creek like the one in “The Crossing” could go sideways in a hurry.
Fording rivers meant passing over muddy banks, navigating treacherous sand and gravel bars, and braving hidden pools and currents. Overturned wagons, lost supplies, drowned family members and spooked animals could change the trajectory of a westward journey in the blink of an eye.
“The Crossing” depicts a best-case scenario, though: a wagon train with plenty of lateral space to pass — some crossings were only wide enough for one wagon at a time and required days of waiting on one bank or the other — and enough clearance to avoid emptying out and floating wagons across, which was probably about as fun as it sounds.
Looming over the scene are imposing, snow-patched peaks as reminder that every trail west was traversed on a timetable that made no exceptions. On a journey that sometimes took half a year to complete, winter was never far behind.
Related read: 16 Iconic Landmarks on the Oregon Trail
Hold On to What is Good
Maggiori named this painting after a prayer of the Pueblo people:
Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.
“The mountains in the back are the sacred mountains of Taos,” Maggiori explained in 2020. “The rider stand[s] in an ocean of sage so typical to the high plateau here in Taos.”
Since moving to a five-acre property in Taos that year, Maggiori’s weaved the people, history and stories of the region into many of his works, including “Under the Pueblo Sky,” “Full Moon Rising” and “Taos is Home.”
The area is also home to Taos Pueblo, one of three cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Southwest, along with Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Pueblo’s oral history dates back nearly one thousand years, making it one of the oldest inhabited communities in the world.
Nantan Lupan Can Wait
The brutal Apache Wars of Arizona were decades underway by the time General George Crook was assigned to the Arizona Territory in the 1870s.
Before then, the U.S. Army had mixed results forcing local Apache and Yavapai groups onto reservations, but Crook employed Apache scouts in order to quickly learn the territory’s terrain and how the Apache moved within it.
“The land itself was the Apache warrior’s greatest ally,” wrote Paul Andrew Hutton in The Apache Wars. “He knew where the life-giving springs were and could find the many caves that might hide him.”
The Apache scouts were able to lead Crook — nicknamed Nantan Lupan by the Apache, meaning “Grey Wolf” — to those exact caves, springs and rancherias, resulting in tragedies like the Skeleton Cave massacre.
Between skirmishes, the Army trailed small groups of Apache and Yavapai in the desert, marching miles through rugged lands with no end in sight, often pausing to contemplate their next moves. “Nantan Lupan Can Wait” portrays Crook, the cavalry and scouts awaiting a parley with Tonto Apache leader Eschetlepan in a landscape typical of the Tonto Basin.
In 2021, Maggiori announced “Heartbeats” as the first painting in his solo show that would eventually be “Beyond the Golden Skies.”
“Vermilion cliffs is one of those places that engraves a mark on your soul for the rest of your life,” Maggiori wrote about the scene. “I’ve spent a lot of hours staring at this Mesa. Every hour of the day.”
Located in far northern Arizona, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is remote and purposely undeveloped: there are no paved roads, facilities or reliable water sources in the monument. If you’ve road-tripped it between southern Utah and Arizona, you’ve likely seen the stark, 3,000-foot cliffs towering over the low-lying desert.
Up close, the cliffs’ layers of sandstone and shale make for an awe-inspiring display that’s truly difficult to forget — or see elsewhere. Monument Valley may have its signature mittens, but the long-winding escarpment that creates Vermilion Cliffs is just as dramatic.
The otherworldly geography of the land — including Coyote Buttes, The Wave and White Pocket — is millions of years in the making, and humans have lived in the area for centuries, including the Ancestral Puebloan people and later, the Southern Paiute.
What Lies Within Us
North America’s most widespread native tree is also one of its most alluring: each aspen is part of a larger “colony” of shared underground roots, making this deciduous tree the largest living organism in the world.
Case in point: Pando, an aspen stand in Utah, is made up of some 40,000 trees and covers more than one hundred acres — and it’s all connected. It’s estimated to be about 80,000 years old, though each individual aspen typically lives between 50 and 150 years.
Needless to say, aspens make a damn good metaphor for the interconnectedness of life, and a lively backdrop to “What Lies Within Us,” Maggiori’s 2021 masterpiece inspired by the parallels he found between aspen and North America’s indigenous people.
“We are all children of Mother Earth,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “Understand what was before us to embrace what lies within us.”
“Opening the way and making a good and solid trail is what we [are] all trying to do for our children,” Maggiori wrote in 2021.
The year before, “Father’s Daughter” was part of Briscoe Museum’s Night of Artists; in a world that was largely shut down at the time, Briscoe managed to pull off an impressive all-online version of their event featuring the work of some 80 Western artists.
Maggiori’s Instagram feed may be a colorful grid of paintings and insight into his creative processes, but his stories between posts gives the distinct impression that his own daughters and family play a critical role in how he approaches his craft.
In a profile with Western Art & Architecture, Maggiori revealed a promise he made to his youngest daughter to paint her every year. In the portrait of her as a two-year-old, she sits horseback, carefree against a clear blue sky.
There are no Maggiori clouds, no steep cliffs of rust and vermilion. It’s a stunningly simple scene, but somehow just as powerful as any roaring monsoon storm, or wild remuda thundering over the open desert.
Explore the Old West
- 10 Famous Guns of the Old West, from Revolvers to Rifles
- The Origins of Scalping: A True and Surprising History
- 7 Facts about Johnny Ringo You Won’t Learn from Movies
- 29 Most Iconic Quotes from Tombstone
- I’m Your Huckleberry: The Real Meaning of Doc Holliday’s Iconic Line
- 8 Wells Fargo Stagecoach History Facts You Might Not Know
D.T. Christensen is the founder and editor of OldWest.org, a history website committed to sharing and preserving stories of the American West. He was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, studied journalism at Northern Arizona University, and lives in Massachusetts with his wife and kids.