Move over Bernie: Being dead doesn't stop Charles M. Russell from partying atMFAH
Celebrity spottings in our humble burg are always a cause for commotion, but the Hollywood A-list was outshone Friday evening by the appearance of renown cowboy artist, Charles M. Russell. The iconic character was in town for the members' preview of a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He attracted a packed house to the Brown Auditorium to watch him tell the detailed accounts of his adventures in the American West, and as his fame soared, in Europe and Hollywood.
The Houston art world was left starstruck.
Incidentally, Russell passed away in 1926.
Last night's museum appearance was the work of a Russell scholar and impersonator, Raphael Cristy, performing his one-man show on the epic painter and sculptor's life. Post-performance, the dead man impersonator (who knew an art historian could make a side career of that?) took a moment to answer a few questions from CultureMap.
CultureMap: What sparked your initial interest in Russell?
Raphael Cristy: I finished an English degree at Stanford and opened a used bookshop. The inventory comes in by surprise through the door — you never know what you're going to get. Books came in about Russell, and I began collecting them. It didn't turn into being a one man show for 20 or so years after that.
CM: What made you decide to make your knowledge of Russell into a performance?
RC: When I saw that all this good material was basically ignored by the show business world, whether it's television, movies or theater, there wasn't much I could do except the theatre part, so I began putting together the script for somebody else to do. I started putting together a script for somebody else to do.
I know some good actors in Los Angeles who could do it — maybe even better than I. But I knew that I had to show it to them. I couldn't put the script in front of them — I had to show how it might work. And the more I thought about that, the less I wanted to give it away.
CM: For how long have you been doing the performance?
RC: Since roughly 1984. It changed a fair amount over the years. I've found ways to shorten it. My initial performance was over two hours long, with an intermission. That's too long for people. Over the years, there have been lulls when I've been inactive, so I find fresh ways to put in new material or leave things in. It's been an evolution that way.
CM: What is it that you find most appealing about Russell's work?
RC: His artwork has an intensity and truthfulness that is very compelling. He lived there in Montana, and his primary critics were people who had participated in cowboy work and western culture, and they knew as much or more than he did, and would give him feedback that would help him correct inaccuracies and strengthen his work. That adds an extra dimension to it that most artists weren't able to have — even very gifted artists.