Brass, Oil, and a True Texas Artist
By Sophie Bauer
Photo By Janet Rogers
While pursuing his undergraduate degree in History, artist Matt Tumlinson worked during the summers for his uncle at A Place to Shoot, a gun range on the Southside of San Antonio. Although at first the work seemed like just a part-time job, the experience shaped his world in more ways than he could have ever imagined. One night while cleaning up, he took some empty casings home, lined them up, and found his unique, defining, new medium. Tumlinson’s work at the shooting range along with his upbringing in rural central Texas continue to inspire his renowned artistic endeavors, but it’s not just his own journey he is portraying, it’s yours too.
Guns are a part of our society’s cultural, historical, and political conversations. These three elements, Tumlinson realized, are the essence of art, a way to engage in personal and communal dialogue. With this in mind, Tumlinson created his first work, an oil painting of a Comanche Chief looking out over the spent casings. His works since include depictions of cowboys, mounts, longhorns, Willie Nelson, Abraham Lincoln, Mick Jagger, firearms, boots, and more. Each small bullet tells the story of the artist, the subject and the viewer.
When it comes to the message behind his art, Tumlinson says it depends on an individual’s perception. Art is not only a visual experience, but a reflective one as well. When viewing a work of art, every person brings their own history and understanding of the subject matter, or in this case, the canvas as well.
Tumlinson’s art engages viewers in a discussion about firearms in a way that’s not typical, reframing the conversation. Firearms can be seen as violent and destructive, but they can also be used in hunting to put food on the table, provide for the family, or to bond through generations. Traveling the nation showing his art in various galleries, Tumlinson has seen positive reactions come from both sides. Although he keeps his personal opinions to himself, he says, “People assume that you align with their beliefs, whether that’s pro or anti-gun.”
With his work, Tumlinson wants people from all backgrounds to draw their own conclusions based on their experiences and have meaningful discussions. To each viewer, his art represents a personal perspective. Through every piece, Tumlinson hopes to evoke understanding on both sides.
Each work is meticulously crafted on the brass bullet casings for a seamless look. This process includes long hours of sorting empty casings to find the ones of the right size and shape. The casings are then attached to a wooden board to create the setting for the oil painting. At first glance, one might not even realize the unique canvas. Tumlinson portrays each subject in a detailed, lifelike fashion. Every layer of his work conveys a different story, resonating with viewers and their journeys.
Almost half of Tumlinson’s work is commission based. He paints unique pieces you can find hanging in private homes, ranches, and more across the country. For commissioned pieces, he has painted oil derricks, individual portraits, maps and various other personal requests. His other works range in subject, but mostly contain a nod to his Texas roots, especially pieces featuring longhorns, bald eagles, country music singers, and the Texas flag.
Tumlinson’s paintings have become popular with collectors worldwide, represented in galleries such as The La Jolla Gallery (La Jolla, California), The Copper Shade Tree Gallery (Round Top, Texas), and Texas Treasures Fine Art (Boerne, Texas).
As a dynamic and ambitious artist, Tumlinson is not only known for his bullet casings. His most recent work is an iconic mural of Texas Country Music Star, George Strait. Tumlinson depicts Strait with a cowboy hat crown, a royal cape, and a scepter. This mural is part of a special street art series on N. St. Mary’s St. in San Antonio, Texas.
Tumlinson has also paid homage to another Texas music legend, Willie Nelson, with a mural in Rankin, Texas. “Saint Willie of Texas” smiles down on visitors with his classic braids, bandana, and guitar. The mural reads “WWWD?” for “What Would Willie Do?” giving the piece historical, cultural, and religious facets. The murals are a fun way for Tumlinson to further express his creativity, and to keep him “artistically limber” as he puts it. Soon to come, he has several murals lined up, so be on the lookout for more of his work across the state.
In the coming year, Tumlinson has a lot on his plate. Of course, he will keep creating bullet casing pieces and murals, but he also has a much bigger project in the works. In March, Tumlinson and his wife, Allison, will welcome their second child, an arrival they are overjoyed for.
Eight years ago, before launching his career as a fulltime artist, Tumlinson drew the cartoons for Texas Dove Hunters Association newsletter. He also drew the beautiful map featured in every Fall issue of Texas Dove Hunters Magazine with the season dates.