Internet ART

Artist Matt Tumlinson explores Texas’ hippie-cowboy history

Artist Matt Tumlinson explores Texas' hippie-cowboy history
Written by publisher team

Pabst, owner of San Antonio-born Lone Star, moved its headquarters to San Antonio in 2020 and has been entrenching itself in the local art scene ever since. Matt Tumlinson is the latest San Antonio-based artist invited to collaborate with the brewing company in honor of Texas Independence Day.

Together, in their own independent ways, Tumlinson and the National Beer of Texas are aiming to wrangle the existential question of what it means to be a modern Texan. According to the artist, the truth is found somewhere between myth and an internet connection. It’s complicated — the same way many Texan’s enjoyment of the nationalistic brew is equal parts ironic and proud.

“I think we have this image of ourselves, but it’s rooted in something that really doesn’t exist anymore,” Tumlinson says. “You know, cowboys and the open range and all this other stuff. And that’s still part of our heritage, but how do you acknowledge the heritage, while also, you know, comment on the Texas of today?”

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Tumlinson’s limited-run merchandise collaboration with Lone Star, a brand that began brewing light beers for cowboys in 1884, attempts to tap into the bubbling spirit of the 1970’s Austin. It was a time when everyone from Michael Murphey to Willie Nelson would take the stage at the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters venue.

The story goes that the audiences for these shows were often a split between real-deal cowboys and Barton Springs dipping Austin hippies. The two camps mutual love for this particular scene of Texas country led them to intermingle, and apparently, so did the effects of Lone Star Beer.

At the time, Armadillo’s, with a capacity of 1,500, sold more Lone Star draft beer than anywhere else in the state, other than the 44,500 capacity Astrodome. Drinking the beer became intuitively hip for a swath of home-grown Texans with progressive sensibilities. Nelson would swig it on stage — doesn’t get more classically cool than that.

Willie Nelson with a can of Lone Star.  In the 1970s, the country legend was instrumental in boosting the brand in exchange for free beer.

Willie Nelson with a can of Lone Star. In the 1970s, the country legend was instrumental in boosting the brand in exchange for free beer.

Wally McNamee /Corbis via Getty Images

It was around this time, known as the brands “Cosmic Cowboy” era, that Lone Star brought on Armadillo World Headquarters resident artist Jim Franklin to create Lone Star merchandise, which ended up heavily featuring the armored creature. With this partnership, the increasing popularity of the free-wheeling outlaw country scene, Armadillo’s, and Lone Star all seemed to coalesce. Out of the now-defunct Armadillo’s, the question of ‘who are we?’ became a little more interesting (and more lucrative) for the Texas beer company.

Naturally, the armadillo critter, the central motif in the Tumlinson’s Lone Star collaboration, is a nod to this moment in Texas history where two distinct groups came together to develop this scene.

“It resonated with me that you could also be two of these things at once and, you know, kind of get along with everybody,” says Tumlinson, who says there are both “hippie” and “country” parts to himself.

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The complicated interplay between the new guard and the old are central themes to much of Tumlinson’s work, from his murals to his paintings.

His painting “Curious Encounters,” depicts two distinct men sidled up against the bar. Both signaling signs of Texan-hood— mustachioed, Stetson wearing. One is older, clad in dirty denim and nursing a Lone Star, the other younger, tattoo-laden, sipping Topo Chico and texting. As a local viewer, you imagine them holding court at a joint like the Lonesome Rose.

“You look at it the first time and the hipster kind of plays the bad guy, or we’re supposed to, like, roll our eyes at him,” Tumlinson says. “But if you delve into it further, there’s little details kind of sprinkled around throughout that kind of, I hope tell the story of like, well, it’s entirely possible that’s a father and son.

“It’s funny to me, I know people like this personally. This kid, you know, he plays in a heavy metal band, but he grew up in Podunk America and he can do all the stuff his cowboy dad can do, but he chose not to. That’s kind of the Texas of today, like everybody’s got the internet, we’re not stuck where we’re at.”

Matt Tumlinson for Lone Star Brewing.

Matt Tumlinson for Lone Star Brewing.

Mark Champion

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Born in San Antonio, Tumlinson spent most of his childhood in Early, Texas, a small town about an hour south of Abilene. He returned to the city about 10 years ago. While acknowledging how symbols of Texas are often bastardized, from cowboys to the open road, subverted symbols of Texas, from pop-culture, Luby’s and the ranch, are the shorthand through which Tumlinson expresses himself.

It’s what he knows. On some level, he admits, he deals with them in an effort to better understand himself and why the people around him think the way they do. He also does it to give the Lone Star State, often improperly depicted, its proper due.

With increasing development facing San Antonio, which Pabst is incidentally a part of, and during a particularly politically tense and unique time in history, reassessing these themes seems as relevant as ever for Texans.

“It’s like explaining your family,” Tumlinson says. “Like yeah, the place I’m from is a little nuts, but this is why I love it, and these are the flaws in it, but you know, it’s trying to try to sift through all that.”

In April of 2020, Lone Star-Pabst, partnered with Cruz Ortiz of San Antonio’s Burnt Nopal to design the can of their first Mexican-style lager, Lone Star Rio Jade. Since then, they have worked with Austin-based artist Lauren Dickens, opened an art gallery in Southtown, and have been frequent partners with the San Antonio Street Art Initiative.

“Everything we do, we want to regionalize it and localize it as much as possible and celebrate the artistry and beauty that Texas has to offer,” Lone Star brand manager Daniel Crawford previously told MySA.

“I really appreciate that Lone Star was able to kind of bring in so many local people,” Tumlinson says. “They could have outsourced all of it, so it was really a cool move.

“That’s one of my favorite things about San Antonio you know, everybody always says it, but it’s a big town but it feels small. If you’re creative, it’s really a cool place to be because of that.”

Have your eye on Tumlinson’s Lone Star merch? Well, the line sold out within 24 hours (and the second small drop did again a couple days later). Classic navy and ivory and believably vintage-looking, Tumlinson’s work clearly resonates with the Texas of today.

“I’m trying to get Lone Star to print more but, you know, they’re in the business of selling beer and not merchandise,” Tumlinson says. “So, we’ll see if if it ends up happening or not, but I think you kind of set the stage for doing some other stuff in the future hopefully.”

Matt Tumlinson for Lone Star Brewing.

Matt Tumlinson for Lone Star Brewing.

Mark Champion

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