Billy Schenck’s Wild West

JoAnne Artman Gallery
Oct 18, 2019 8:50PM

Billy Schenck’s paintings have a very specific code of reference - the mythical American West. Taking a contemporary approach to the iconic subject matter, Schenck, who himself resides on a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico blends a pop sensibility with a true love for the Wild West as portrayed in classic Hollywood films. “For me,” Schenck explains, “the western myth is a metaphor for many aspects of life in general. It has the ability to keep expanding like a parallel to the expanding universe.

A creator of the Western Pop Art movement, Billy Schenck incorporates techniques from both Photo-Realism and Pop Art. Combining areas of localized color, Schenck's reductive painting style creates easily readable paintings that mimic the effect of early 8-bit color graphics or the elegant simplicity of linocut prints. Signifiers of his Western settings can be seen through the use of cowboy hats, revolvers, and radiant, golden-orange sunset hues.

Borrowing heavily from iconic imagery particular to the Western film genre, specifically Spaghetti Westerns, he frequently integrates other references as well: drawings found in 19th century local newspapers, personal photographs, or vintage magazine covers. Infusing personal experience with film history, his artistic approach documents his own involvement and knowledge of the West, such as living on a ranch and competing in rodeos.

Schenck's self-awareness comes through the wry humor of his captions as well as absurdist yet lyrical juxtapositions in the compositions. Spunky heroines, desert vistas, and dusty cowboys are elevated by the recognition of ingrained notions of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. In Under Pressure, a thought bubble giving evidence to his inner thoughts of anxiety interrupts the cowboy’s duel. The juxtaposition between word and image is both profoundly funny, and devastatingly realist. “If you look at every caption painting I have done since the mid 1980s. Every single one takes on some aspect of every western cliché there is, and undermines it and turns it on its head,” Schenck points out.

Abundant in history, landscape and folklore, the American Frontier was once synonymous with the cowboy’s take on the American Dream. In Schenck’s portrayals of his Wild West, he blends pop culture, myth, and legend into compositions that are equal parts statement and commentary.“It seems to capture the imagination like no other genre has in history,” Schenck concludes. “It has and does capture a universal appeal.”

The Wild Bunch: Featuring Billy Schenck, Greg Miller + America Martin

On View at JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York

511A West 22nd Street

New York, NY 10011

JoAnne Artman Gallery