artist jules arthur shares the story behind the artwork for ‘they die by dawn’ cowboy epic

March 22, 2013

Many of you guys got excited when we told you about They Die By Dawn, the new epic cowboy movie starring Erykah Badu, Michael K. Williams, Rosario Dawson, Giancarlo Esposito and more, which just premiered at the SXSW Festival. But have you seen the badass poster created by visual artist Jules Arthur? Arthur talks to us about how he got on board and what the experience was like. He also gives us a History lesson in the process (about Black settlements), and tells us what happened when the poster was revealed to the cast members. Below is what he had to say.
– Lou C-D

“My connection with [director] Jeymes Samuel aka “The Bullitts” is through a mutual friend: one of the coolest brothas from London, Sly Augustine (part owner and director Trailer Happiness lounge in London). Over the course of a couple years Sly became a fan and supporter of my work. After a few failed attempts and urging Jeymes, “No you really need to see this dude’s work”, Sly eventually broke through to Jeymes and got him to view my work. Sly says he flipped over the work, “this is the guy I am looking for!” It has been one hell of a ride since. Jeymes and I had a few conversations over the phone but we first met at Soho House during the summer of 2012.

With English accent [he told me] “Jules I’m in NYC. Come meet me at Soho House at 3pm”. I said, “Cool I’ll be there”. I walked out onto the sunny roof deck and noticed Rod Stewart but was immediately swooped up in a big bear hug and an ear to ear smile from 6’3” Jeymes Samuel. “Brotha Jules!!! What’s crackin’ man? Come join us.” He was being interviewed by Complex Magazine at the moment and was gracious enough to bring me into the conversation and topics. I was under the impression Jeymes and I would spend about an hour talking about his vision and direction of his film They Die By Dawn and my participation with the project. The meeting quickly turned into an incredible journey on the topics of art, cinema and music. For those who know Jeymes they will attest to the fact that he is a walking encyclopedia on film, film scores, actors and any aspect of music. We dove deep into the subject that got us to this point, the American Western. Growing up the biggest fan of the western movie genre I was shocked at the depth of knowledge this Brit new about my history and this American chapter. We spoke the same language and displayed the same passion for all the idiosyncrasies of the genre. We spoke about the many western characters, plots, the villains, the heroes, the damsels in distress and the all-important musical score. Jeymes knows all the musical bars and can hum out any Ennio Morriconie score. We didn’t leave that roof deck until damn near 12 mid-night.

Since that initial meeting my involvement with the film They Die By Dawn has taken me on one hell of a magical journey. For the most part I am a fine artist creating and selling my work to private collectors and institutions celebrating art. This project is my first venture into the rich long history and world of movie posters. Jeymes laid out in short “I have nine characters from the film I need you to portray in a work of art that I will use for the film”. After explaining the characters and mentioning some of his favorite movie posters he simply said, “you run with it brotha”. Jeymes is a huge fan of the rich artistic tradition of movie posters done by great artists such as Bob Peak, Drew Struzan, Richard Amsel , Howard Terpning etc. As a kid and painter I drooled over the works of art by these swordsmen of painters. Their ability to suck you in with one image as you said, “I must see that film!” The power of that one image each artist created was so intoxicating you had to run out and see that movie. For the past 20 years the movie poster genre has gone way to slick photography and computer generated imagery. In that industry the painter is forsaken and all but forgotten. So to have this project place in my lap and Jeymes allowing me to flex and do what I love most (paint) I feel like I am able to celebrate for a time-honored tradition no longer appreciated. The They Die By Dawn project has really lent itself to the rich tradition of movie poster paintings of past. It was really refreshing to see the makers of Mad Men use artist Brian Sanders for their season 6 promotions. It is a slight return to the glory days of picture making for film.

Jeymes has put together a stellar cast to portray actual historical figures from the American west. Historical figures we seldom are taught about or even mentioned in studies. A case in point of the classic marginalization of African Americans’ presence in the rich chapter of the American west. Cowboy Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick, legendary cowboy and bulldogger Bill Picket, hard as nails mail carrier 6ft gun toting cigar smoking Stagecoach Mary, the notorious Ben Hodges of Dodge city etc. Legendary figures that I have portrayed and painted in my own work that I believe won the attention of Jeymes Samuel. “James P. Beckworth” – frontiersman and explorer credited for finding The Sierra Nevada Pass. The very passes that allowed settlers to move from the east into California where the Gold Rush of 1849 would change the landscape of the nation. “Kansas Blacks” also referred to as “Exodusters”. During Reconstruction (1879 -1880), a black migration of freed slaves moved west to Nicodemus Kansas to escape harsh conditions of the newly freed south. A similar migration moved to Oklahoma where African Americans seeking to escape racial injustice had settled over fifty towns. The legendary Oklahoma town of Langston is where we find ourselves in They Die By Dawn. Langston is a thriving town of black owned business, schools, churches and community. But on this day bounties are to be collected, old debts settled and the last man standing wins the spoils.

Jeymes had the creative insight to assemble a stellar cast that could honor, carry and deliver the weightiness of these legendary figures of the west on film. The Line up is basically a who’s who of black Hollywood. Jesse Williams, Rosario Dawson, Isaiah Washington, Idris Elba, Michael K Williams, Erykah Badu, Harry Lennix, Nate Parker, Felicia Snoop Pearson and Bokeem Woodbine. As the artist for the They Die By Dawn movie poster I had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with the cast of the film over the course of its recent premiere weekend at SxSW in Austin Texas. Then again Tuesday night the 19th at its press screening at the Tribeca Film Festival here in NYC. Through their experiences together on this project I recognize the cast members have become a tight net family with this incredible bond and oneness. I tell you as a visual artist it is something quite special to spend time painting these legendary western figures then turn around and meet the actors who portrayed each respective character. I received the most exuberant accolades from each cast member, which simply brought the work on the painting full circle. I was a little star struck being in their presence trying to give them praise and they were saying “nooo brotha youuuu, you rocked this poster man!” Jeymes held the image of the painting so secrete none of the cast members saw the blown up posters until we all walked into the Viceland venue together [in Austin]. With the press lighting up the place with a hundred light bulbs going off and standing next to them I was able to see their individual expressions at first glance of the poster. Wow, a real real special moment in my career. I thank them all for that special moment in time. The screening of the film was a sure fire winner as the audience erupted into cheers after the viewing. Erykah [Badu] spun a little wicked dj set of the grooviest sounds for the after party and just when you thought things could not get any better we were all unexpectedly gathered up and whisked off to see a Tribe Called Quest and Prince performing several blocks over at another venue. Needless to say they just tore the damn roof off the place until 4am.

They Die By Dawn is part of a trilogy, so Jeymes warns people he has only scratched the surface. Brace yourself for his next film in the series The Notorious Nine, which starts filming this summer, where things really get off and poppin’. I’ll be on set this time taking it all in to marinate so it can result in me creating something spectacular for the film to come. Kick it up a notch. I am looking forward to being a part of this journey and honored to share my talents with an artist like Jeymes Samuel and the cast he has created to play out his vision.”

* Check out more of Jules Arthur’s work at