- Frank Mechau, American, 1904-1946
- Born: Colorado
- Work Locations: Denver, CO; Colorado Springs, CO
- United States
About the Artist
Frank Mechau [MAY-show] was born in 1904 and grew up in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He worked for the railroad and as a cattle hand, and later received a boxing scholarship at the University of Denver, which helped finance his art studies. After traveling to Europe to study art, Mechau returned to Colorado. “America is the place for American artists,” he said. Mechau taught art at various places in Colorado, including his own Mechau School of Modern Art in downtown Denver. In 1934, he received his first of many government commissions to create murals (his first mural is located in the Denver Public Library). Mechau settled with his family in Redstone, Colorado, in 1937, where he continued to teach and paint. He died suddenly at the age of 42.
Mechau was well-recognized as a mural painter and has either murals or paintings in 48 states. He worked very slowly, with painstaking precision. Using countless sketches, he recomposed and resized his forms many times. Mechau’s representation of the West combined traditional subjects with simplified forms and a modern style.
What Inspired It
Mechau felt that the West held the best possible subject matter for his art. “Sports, mountains, canyons and the history of the West, of which Colorado has more than her share, are subjects from which I hope to fashion [my art],” he said. This painting has a Colorado setting, with mountains along the horizon. Mechau was also inspired by the energy and beauty of horses, a common source of dynamic form and movement in his paintings.
While studying in Paris, Mechau was influenced by cubism, with its simplified, geometric shapes, and by artists like Picasso. For his own works, Mechau took cues from his studies in Europe and the many hours he spent scouring museums. Vibrant colors, which he may have admired in works of European art from the 1200s, along with strong, clean lines, influenced by Chinese and Japanese paintings, help express Mechau’s great adoration for the West.
Mechau loved horses and spent a lot of time observing them and making sketches, trying to capture their spirit and beauty. Notice that there are no facial features shown on any of the riders. Mechau created much more definition for the horses’ faces than those of their riders.
A quick leg count reveals how Mechau manipulated his subjects, overlapping figures to read as one form. While the gray and brown horses seem to have all of their legs, the white horse’s legs are not shown.
Mechau created smooth lines by combining the edges of his forms. Notice how he positioned the cowboy boots so they fall inside the shape of the horse.
To put more emphasis on the horses, the shirts of the riders blend in with the sky. A triangle of the primary colors is displayed with the red and yellow saddle blankets of the horses and the blue shirt on the third rider. A touch of the same red from one saddle blanket is used to highlight the artist’s signature at the bottom.
Shapes and lines repeat throughout the painting. Wispy horizontals define the scarf, clouds, and horse tail. Circles are repeated on the chap buttons, horse bit, and bridle joint.
Looking closely, you can see different textures Mechau created with the paint. The ground looks rough in comparison to the sky because the paint is thicker. The tail looks hairy, the horse’s body seems furry, and the chaps appear fluffy.
Although Mechau simplified his forms, he also included some small details. While the body of one rider is almost completely hidden, you can see his arm, wrapped around another rider, with a tiny flower on his cuff. Other small details include fringes on the brown chaps and a star on one of the saddles.
Quick Classroom Ideas
- In Rodeo-Pickup Man, the cowboy’s faces are not depicted; have students practice showing emotions without using facial expressions. Have them cover their faces with paper plates while the rest of the class guesses what emotion they are making.
- Point out the white horse an the fact that its legs are not visible, then have the students draw their own white horse including the whole body.
- Many of the shapes in this painting fade and flow together, like the cowboy’s boot and the horse’s leg. Have the students paint a scene where certain parts represent two different objects.