Since he was a child on the East Coast, Bob Coronato has obsessively drawn and painted scenes of the Wild West.
While getting ready for the Cattlemen’s Western Art Show, Coronato admitted he thinks he was probably a cowboy in a previous life.
"I must have been," he said with a laugh.
Now, at 36, the Atascadero resident is still considered a wunderkind by most of the other artists he shows with, but his boyish charm and sense of humor keep everyone around him grinning instead of bristling with envy at his talent.
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Artist Karen Foster Wells recalls meeting Coronato three years ago at the Cattlemen’s show where they had adjoining booths. She bought one of his etchings, the title of which so delighted her that "I woke up laughing in my sleep," she said.
"Bob’s art is not only accurate in all those Remington-Russell nuances of the genre, but can be hilarious," she added.
It’s the lengthy droll titles he gives his work that draw the chuckles, because his art is a far cry from cartoons.
While attending Otis Parsons Institute of Fine Art in Los Angeles, Coronato stubbornly refused to try his hand at anything except Western art. He finally made a trip to South Dakota and Wyoming, where he met the famous saddlemaker Carson Thomas. Thomas admired Coronato’s paintings but had an inkling the young man didn’t know much about cowboying.
"You have the talent," Thomas told him, "but you don’t have the experience." Thomas eventually arranged for Coronato to help with branding and roundups on some Wyoming ranches.
"I was free labor to anyone who would have me," he said. Coronato doesn’t recall being on a horse until that time. "I kind of had to learn from the grass roots up," he said.
Every summer since, for 15 years, Coronato has traveled back to work on ranches as large as 280,000 acres. "It was just like the old days," he said, sounding as if he knew that firsthand.
His cowboying time has improved his art, so that the details are now absolutely correct, which was the whole point of getting those saddle sores.
All that hard work has paid off.
The newly published "American Indian Horse Masks" includes one of Coronato’s original etchings with the first 100 leather-bound copies. The book was just awarded the ARLIS, which Coronato said is the Pulitzer Prize equivalent for literary art.
Coronato was also invited to the Idaho Coeur D’ Alene Art Auction in July, a rarity in that "you have to be dead for about 50 years" before being invited, he said.
Hmm, maybe he’s channeling Russell or Remington.
IF YOU GO
What: "17th Annual Cattlemen’s Western Art Show
When: April 13 to 15
Where: Paso Robles Event Center, Paso Robles
How much: $20 Friday reception; Saturday and
Contact: 432-1319 or cattlemenswesternartshow.com