No artist captured the vast, sweeping landscape of the American west as dramatically as Maynard Dixon. As one of America's most accomplished illustrators, Dixon's work became known through the widespread exposure of his magazine and newspaper illustrations. Like many American artists of the early twentieth century, Dixon found a career as an illustrator as a way to satisfy his artistic compulsion while managing to earn a living.
Born in 1875, in Fresno, California, Maynard Dixon spent the vast majority of his life exploring and documenting the alluring American West. "A shy, sensitive youth, Maynard Dixon listened, looked and remembered, absorbing impressions of simplicity, low-laid masses of land, and the far-flung decorative sweeps of sky. Such shapes dominate and give signature to the art of his later years. 'No doubt,' he once reflected, 'these flat scenes have influenced my work. I don't like to psychoanalyze myself, but I have always felt my boyhood impressions are responsible for my 'weakness' for horizontal lines.'" (D.J. Hagerty, Desert Dreams: The Art and Life of Maynard Dixon, Layton, Utah, 1993, p. 5)
After a number of years as a successful illustrator, 1912 marked a year of tremendous success for Dixon as a painter. The National Academy of Design accepted three of his works into their winter and summer exhibitions, and early in the year he moved back to San Francisco, where his creative development blossomed. Living as an illustrator on the East Coast did not agree with Dixon who complained, "I am getting paid to lie about the West. I'm going back home to where I can do honest work." (as quoted in W. Burnside, Maynard Dixon, Artist of the West, Provo, Utah, 1974, p. 55) Unlike many of the other illustrators living in New York and selling their work to national magazines, Dixon had firsthand experience of the American West. He "knew that the West was not always in conflict, as eastern myths had too often dictated--the cowboy was not always on a bucking horse not was the Indian always on the warpath. Even though in New York he had been able to compete with some of the best illustrators America had produced, Dixon wanted to realistically portray the more ordinary pursuits of people he knew and admired and with whom he had developed an affinity--people who actually inhabited the West." (Maynard Dixon, Artist of the West, p. 55) As he remarked himself: "My return from New York to the old studio on Montgomery Street marked the beginning of my real development. I was getting a new development rather than a new manner, and beginning to find myself. I saw and had always seen something wonderful here in America. As a painter, then, I date from 1912." (as quoted in Maynard Dixon, Artist of the West, p. 59)
In The Wild Bunch Dixon returns to the horizontal composition that he had always preferred. He has emphasized the flat, expansive horizon of the West which had fascinated him since boyhood. The rugged outdoor life of the frontiersmen and the incredible speed of the tremendous herd of the charging horses is immediately apparent. Each horse speeds along while the cowboys, sitting tall on their horses, deftly maneuver the herd. As powerful as the stampeding herd, the vast Western sky plays an important part in the composition. Careful not to spare any details particular to the authentic West, Dixon has faithfully articulated the sagebrush that grows out of the dusty flat land, in the foreground.
Apart from being a talented illustrator and artist, Maynard Dixon left behind a more enduring legacy, a true record of the American West. It seems that he took to heart the early advice of Frederic Remington who encouraged him to "be always true to yourself--to the way and the things you see in nature... See much and observe the things in nature which captivate your fancy and above all-draw--draw--draw--and always from nature." (as quoted in Maynard Dixon: Artist of the West, p. 215)