For the cover of 4FRONT's Special Rodeo Issue. we have selected the artwork of artist Bobby Cook. Cook has been drawing Western scenes and people for many years and has acquired quite a fan-base in his own home state of Arizona. In fact, Doug Simon was so taken with the art and writings of Bobby that he conceived a fan-club and launched a newsletter. In his pursuit of the truth about Bobby Cook. Simon even traveled to Bobby's hometown of Superior, Arizona and found it to be quite a bit different from the metropolitan city of Phoenix. It left Simon with only one conclusion "Bobby Cook is a real Western artist with real Western roots."
Bobby Cook got his start as an artist at a very young age. In his own words, "I was about 18 or 19, but I didn't really know I was an artist. At a certain point my actual physical way of thinking changed. I actually draw with two different parts of my brain. The part that draws the eyes and the body contours is the part that wants to draw like a photo. Then the part that draws the other parts of it are what puts the mood or the fantasy in the picture."
When asked "Where do you get your inspiration for your drawings? Do you see guys at the Western Bar. do you draw from memories. or do you get magazines and find a picture that inspires you?"
He responded "First of all, I don't much go out to bars. but I do a little bit. Most of my models - well you never know - I might see them walking down the street, or someone who buys my art will send in a photograph of themselves. Sometimes I'll see a complete stranger in a 7-11 and I'll just tell him. 'I'd love to draw you.' I give them a copy of my brochure - if they freak out they freak out. But you know what, nine times out of then, they'll call. I'm not talking about only Gay people. As a matter of fact, straight men - I don't believe in 'straight' or 'gay' to begin with. I believe that all men are sexual and the reason they are not enjoying sex with each other is our society has made them stifle that part of their person. I think it's normal, healthy, and natural. There is no such thing as 'straight' and 'gay'. Those are behaviors. I know most 'gay' men have had sex with a woman or kissed a woman and enjoyed it to some degree. And I'm sure a lot straight men have thought about how fun it would be to wrestle naked with their buddy. In my artwork I want to portray that world where men can enjoy healthy, natural. loving and intimate sexual relationships without feeling that they are doing something 'wrong.' All men have those feelings."
In addition to drawings and paintings of Western lifestyles. Cook has also done lots of work dealing with myths and fantasies of the ancient world. When asked if this is a trend he would like to continue, he said "Definitely. Because I believe there was a time when humans had more freedom, and all the mythical creatures became a way of escaping into that freedom. If you do some research into where these Gods came from ... there was sex between Gods. Even some of our modern psychological terms borrow mythological creatures or people to explain things. I like the mythological feeling. Sexuality and myth can come together. In our puritanical society sex has been taken out of myth. Sexual creatures are now sexless. I want to put the sexuality back into creatures like the Centaur, a very sexual being."
Many of his fans wonder if he is as genuine as his art. Gay people are into so many styles, like leather, punk, drag, now Western... all roles. To many, however, Western isn't really a role, it's a way of life. However, many people had to "discover" their Western roots. but with Bobby Cook it seems so natural. "I don't know anything different" Cook explains. "In fact. when I graduated from the 8th grade I had to give a speech. They borrowed a suit for me, but they had to put potted plants in front of the podium to hide my feet. All I ever had were cowboy boots. You notice some of my art has leather stuff in it. This is because so many of the folks out there have asked for that. Like the master-slave with the black or mulatto man with the Caucasian slave; 'Oscar,' with the garbage can with Oscar's little eyes looking out of it; that biker with the leather outfit - these were things that were specifically asked for. That is not where I am. but I could get into drawing it. And you notice that the Master is not a cruel person. He's a proud, confident man, who is not cruel. That was important to me."
Not only an artist, Cook is sometimes an activist. The city of Phoenix hosted an art show and invited Bobby to submit three pieces for consideration. He sent them three works of progressive difficulty: a fully clothed and handsome cowboy "Buster"; a clear-eyed and shirtless "Farmhand" in a field; and "First Real Kiss" featuring two bare-chested young men in a passionate lip-lock. Although each piece was to be evaluated individually, the result was that all pieces were rejected. Bobby instantly began raising hell through the extensive Gay Press in Phoenix and with the city itself. They are probably just trying to save themselves from the wrath of the Religious Right. Other "hetero" pictures. of course. managed to find their way into the show, in spite of flashes of nudity. Protection of the children was of course. one of the predictable reasons for the decision. and funny how all of a sudden representatives of all the people in this democracy are impossible to get a hold of to answer questions from the press. Bobby Cook is not the type of person to take all this laying down. He has continued to put his art out there and has utilized such Gay Press outlets as X-Factor, Echo Magazine. Bear Magazine and Bunkhouse, which also publishes Bobby's erotic fiction. He continues to fight against anti-homosexual sentiments everywhere.
Clearly, Bobby Cook is an artist with a message and a man with a vision. His work takes you back to the roots of the modern American cowboy. It's not a fashion statement. It's not a trend or a fad. Cook's work shows that the modern Western world is not a lifestyle choice, but a way of life.
by Waide Aaron Riddle
Well, it's here again folks, the 1997 LA Rodeo and Country Fair. It's an exciting time of year in the western community and a time for celebration. Even in the excitement of a modern day gay and lesbian rodeo, we must never forget where we came from. I can't help thinking about how far our community has come since the earliest of our gay frontier men and women helped settle and pave the way for today's pride and open camaraderie.
Those frontier brothers and sisters led a life of secrecy, silence and loneliness all because of their homosexuality. If caught, they were either hanged, stoned, shot, tarred and feathered, or drowned. No questions asked. Today we should thank our lucky stars that even though we have struggles, we have also taken great strides. Let's not forget our roots.
As a young boy of seven, growing up in Houston, Texas, my father took me to the rodeo. It was 1970 and the Houston Rodeo was my first rodeo experience. I was clad in red cowboy hat, jeans and boots. I was so excited and nervous all at the same time. As I sat in the bleachers looking down at the horses, livestock and yes ... those cowboys, I got that butterfly feeling in my stomach. I didn't know why, but it sure was a fun sensation.
Afterward my dad had said. "Pumpkin," (that was his nickname for me) "You wanna meet some of those cowboys?"
"Heck, yeah." I said.
And the next thing you know, I was surrounded by cowboys and standing in the middle of earth and horse and cow crap. The smell was God awful. But those cowboys ... Those Stetson Hats. Those beat-up Levis. Those worn boots. Those flannel checkered shirts. Those butterflies were flyin' like crazy.
Then suddenly I saw one of those Texas flannel cowboys walkin' towards me. Blue eyes, jet black hair, a five o'clock shadow, a character lip scar and dirt caked arms. He bent down on one knee in front of me and smiled - perfect whites, too. He tipped his black hat. "Hey little guy. You gotta name?" he asked.
I was speechless. I couldn't say anything, but to this day, I know Brut when I smell it. Those butterflies just wouldn't stop tlyin'. Then he stood, laughed and said "That's okay ... see you 'round partner." He turned and as he walked off I watched the way he moved. His boots were worn and weathered, the chaps brown and faded and glove-like over a pair of tattered jeans.
I remember his walk well. A man's walk. Proud. Independent. Carefree. And very sexy. My eye caught a rip in the jeans just over his right buttock. And at a certain movement at each step there was the slightest exposure of a smooth cheek. Those butterflies roared inside of me. The cowboy disappeared.
"So," my dad said, "do you like what you see?" I sure did. And today, I still get that excitement from the LA Rodeo. Barrel Racing, Rough Stock, horse events, roping and I still get butterflies over the cowboys. Our Los Angeles Rodeo fans also have the chance to be around fellow cowgirls and cowboys who have the frontier appreciation. Let's have fun folks. Take pride in our history and roots and enjoy community and rodeo camaraderie.