Fusing Navajo culture, modern-day cowgirls and tongue-in-cheek humour, Billy Schenck – also known as the ‘Warhol of the West’ takes viewers on an exhilarating trek through Western mythology.
The Ohio-born artist is inspired by both black-and-white stills of Hollywood Westerns and the Pop Art style of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Greek mythology clashes with irony, apocalyptic imagery and sexual tension for a collection that brazenly expands the limits of the genre.
Bringing his art to the UK for the first time ever in November 2018, the real-life ranch sorting world champion exposed viewers to a reimagined Western narrative. His work is characterised by its scorching colour palette, surreal juxtapositions and cinematic composition – which creates what Southwest Art magazine terms ‘a stance…a pendulum between the romantic and the irreverent’.
In a nod to Andy Warhol – with whom Billy shared a retrospective exhibition at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in 2018 – the artist has been titled the founder of the Western Pop Art movement. With the legend of the cowboy continuing to live on in the popular imagination, Billy shows the sun is not yet ready to set on the Western genre.
Billy says: “I wanted to do with my paintings what Sergio Leone had done with film. No other genre in the last 200 years can compete. It has a timeless quality, and still has infinite possibilities to explore.”
With accomplished use of chiaroscuro, Billy projects photographs from Western movie stills and fills the outlines with flat, hard-edged areas of colour. This, in his own words, produces “a perfect marriage of photorealism and a paint-by-number system”.
His fiery horizons and landscapes are formed from distinct geographical locations and his childhood memories of summers spent in the high deserts of Wyoming. This curious mixture of real and imaginary, past and present is what defines the Kansas City Art Institute graduate. Through his exploration of mythical Western archetypes – including the lonesome cowboy and stoic Native American – Billy both celebrates and pokes fun at the subject.
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