Brandon Bailey

Brandon Bailey

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. (AP) — Brandon Bailey, of Scottsbluff, traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, for an important, if not the most important, moment of his life the weekend of Nov. 4-6.

Bailey, 37, brought with him five original pieces of art, which would be analyzed, critiqued and judged by some of the best, most influential artists in the world at one of the most prestigious events in the Western sector of the fine art world — the 55th annual Cowboy Artists of America Sale and Exhibition.

The artists’ judgment would determine if Bailey would be offered an invitation into the highly selective, elite organization, the Cowboy Artists of America (CA). This group is one of the longest surviving organizations of fine art artists, having lasted over five decades and become one of the most influential artists’ groups in American history.

“Basically, anybody that’s ever kind of wanted to paint a horse or a cowboy has probably dreamed of being in the Cowboy Artists of America,” Bailey told the Scottsbluff Star-Herald.

It was the morning of Thursday, Nov. 4, when Bailey went in to interview with the current 17 active members of the organization and then asked to leave while they deliberated. About an hour later, he was called back into the room.

He had been inducted into the group.

“Everybody’s clapping, and it’s kind of a surreal experience,” he said. “Honestly, I started crying just because I knew the importance of it, and then, you know, as an artist, you always have that self-doubt all the time. So, you’re kind of going in there thinking, ‘Well, I don’t know that they’re going to really like what I brought,’ and you’re constantly telling yourself that. So when you finally get that (recognition) … it’s been a relief.”

Bailey was inducted alongside one other Western artist, Jack Sorenson. With the addition of Baily and Sorenson, there are now a total of 19 active members in the group, along with 15 emeritus members. Bailey is only the second current Nebraskan to be inducted into the Cowboy Artists of America. The other member is Phil Epp from York. There is one additional Nebraskan emeritus member, Herb Mignery, who grew up in Bartlett, but currently resides in Colorado.

Bailey originally grew up around Cheyenne, Wyoming, participating in a lot of what one might consider “typical” Western culture. He hunted with his father and rode bulls competitively, even riding for the Laramie County Community College rodeo team.

Bailey said he got into art as a way to express his experiences growing up.

“I started out going along with my dad, when I was a kid, hunting,” he said. “Then my way of documenting that — some people write about it and my way to express what I experienced was trying to draw that. And so, I started drawing my experiences from those times and kind of started getting the hang of it when I was in junior high. And you know, people were telling me, ‘Wow, you should keep pursuing this.’”

Bailey did pursue it with a plan to go to college to become an art teacher. He never really thought it would turn into anything more than that — until it happened.

“I started painting. I started getting into shows and galleries and then yeah, just kind of dropped out of college and started doing this full time,” he said.

Bailey has since made his entire career out of his artwork, which now consists primarily of oil paintings depicting Western lifestyle, “whether that be past or present. It’s historical in a lot of regards and authentic to that. So, it’s almost like a documenting a time and place, whether that’s working cowboys nowadays, or Native Americans and pioneers of the 1800s. So, my primary focus is to try to portray that in an authentic manner.”

He said it wasn’t something he set out to do, but for the past 12 years, that’s been his reality.

“It just kind of happened. I think some people maybe set out to be an artist; it just really happened for me,” he said. “I mean, I’ve worked hard, but along the way doors would open and then stuff … would just keep me going.”

One of those doors included a mentorship with the CA, which is what got his foot in the door with the organization.

“I’ve been mentoring with the group for at least three years now, and then I actually won a mentorship program,” he said. “They would do like workshops, and that’s what we would attend. And then through there, I got to meet some of the guys. They saw my work and then had me do a mentorship with an artist in the group. So I got to go stay with him for a week, and then kind of really put forward better work.”

From there, members asked him to submit a portfolio to the organization. Members voted on the portfolio and with enough votes, asked him to bring five original pieces of art to the Fort Worth show to be judged along with his interview. The rest, as they say, is history.

“It still kind of seems surreal, so I’m still having a hard time processing all what’s happened,” he said. “It kind of feels almost like 12 years of doing this professionally, and then you have overnight success. But, you know, different art critics in the Western art world have expressed interest in what I’ve been doing.

“It’s interesting how many doors it seems to open up also, and I think that goes to speak for how prestigious the Cowboy Artists of America are, because the vetting process seems to be so intense that when you make it through, people in the Western art world — whether it be gallery show, people that run shows, museums, all that kind of (thing) — automatically want to know about you, because they know that you’ve made it this far vetted by the best Western artists.”

For Bailey, this is, and will likely always be, his crowning achievement of his art career. As a western and wildlife artist, he can’t really think of anything quite like signing the letters “CA” after his name on his artwork.

“I will never do anything bigger in my lifetime,” he said. “…Obviously, you hope you sell paintings for more or get into — I mean, obviously there’s better shows, better galleries. But as far as like the ultimate — any Western artist getting into CA, there’s other milestones, but that’s probably the biggest achievement I’ll ever have in my life.”

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