Tough Girls: Heroines, Outlaws, and the Wild West
Strong females populate the work of JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York's current show, The Wild Bunch. In their group show, artists Billy Schenck, Greg Miller, and America Martin’s women take agency into their own hands as the trope of cowboys saving damsels in distress is turned on its head. Through their portrayals, Schenck, Miller, and Martin subvert and re-direct the narrative of standard Western mythology and our own presumptions.
Andy Warhol, Annie Oakley, from: Cowboys and Indians, Image Courtesy: Christie's
The archetypal figure of the woman warrior can be interpreted as both commonplace and as a counter stereotype depending on the culture and context. Complex and often regarded as a dichotomy between femininity and masculinity, the idea of a female heroine, warrior, or outlaw is the perfect catalyst for discourse surrounding female power and gender roles in society. The Amazons, an entire tribe of woman warriors in Greek legend, have become synonymous with female strength and athleticism in both modern and ancient society. In British history, Queen Boudica, led a rebellion against the Roman Empire. In the 15th Century, warrior Joan of Arc was considered a heroine in France for her role in the Hundred Years' War and was later canonized as a saint. Women warriors have been taken up as a symbol for feminist empowerment, emphasizing women's agency and capacity for power.
Through the development of female empowerment and added feminist representations in pop culture and media, the female heroine has transformed to become strong and independent as an individual character rather than a sidekick or love interest to the male hero.
Exploring the ideas of the female power, strength, and infamy, Andy Warhol featured Annie Oakley in his Cowboys and Indians series. An American sharpshooter of the Wild West, her exceptional talent led to a starring role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1885. Oakley won numerous medals for her marksmanship, performed for royalty, and remains a legendary figure of the American West. In his trademark use of color blocking, Warhol allows viewers to truly envision this American legend of the past as a modern pop culture icon who defined all norms and expectations.
In The Wild Bunch, these women and their counterparts inhabit a world that is based on an amalgamation of Hollywood motifs and themes. The symbols and signs related to the Western genre such as hot-blooded cowboys galloping on horseback, a dusty, blood-orange sun setting on a desert landscape, are interspersed with details that point to the contemporary as well.
Schenck’s signature style, which references the graphic elements of digital pixilation with the Ben-Day dot printing process of classic comic books and other print media, echoes the juxtaposition of the classic Western imagery with more contemporary allusions. Using historical texts, illustrations, newspaper and photographs as a base, Miller completes the works with elements of typography, as well as the painted form, resulting in visual landscapes of great narrative depth. Emblazoning his panels with strong rhetoric such as “Woman Outlaws” (see above), Miller’s unique brand of Americana celebrates ties to iconic imagery that transcends the conventions of the passage of time. In her recent body of work featured i, Martin returns to the subject of Native American portraits, mixing indigenous motifs with her signature style and featuring depictions of the human form as solid, grounded, and in tune with its environment and spirit. Honest and pure, each portrait captures the essence of each figure.
JoAnne Artman Gallery, Presents: “THE WILD BUNCH” FEATURING BILLY SCHENCK, GREG MILLER + AMERICA MARTIN
Artist Reception: Thursday, September 5th, 2019 from 6pm-8pm