Cowboy art: Billy Schenck

When The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903, the 12-minute American silent film exposed viewers to the exquisite drama of the Wild West. But the genre had been explored far earlier than this; artists including Charles ‘Kid’ Russell and Frederic Remington had captured the allure of the cowboy in their sketches, cartoons, paintings and sculptures since the late 19th century.

Bringing what former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt called a "most characteristic and yet vanishing type of American life" to a modern audience is artist Billy Schenck, whose western-inspired collection, The New West, is influenced by black-and-white stills of Hollywood westerns and the Pop Art style of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. 

For the last five decades, the artist, who in 2018 shared a retrospective exhibition with Warhol at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, has transformed the genre. His exploration of the western landscape has seen him travel the arid terrain of Monument Valley to combine real-life scenes with the fiery lands of his imagination, earning him the title of the 'grandaddy' of contemporary western art. 


Billy Schenck

Painted into history

As the quintessential American hero, the lone cowboy has legendary status in popular culture. In recent years, Richard Prince has depicted their idealised masculinity in his Cowboys series (1980-1992). For this project, he re-photographed and deconstructed Marlboro cigarette advertisements, creating close-ups of the cowboys by cropping out text. 

Other notable artists include Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), who earned his keep as a cowboy in Montana Territory and carried a small bundle of watercolours and brushes (sometimes in a sock!), sketching whenever he had chance. 

The painter, illustrator and sculptor Frederic Remington (1861-1909) captured the American Old West. His father was a colonel in the American Civil War and he was related to the painter of Native American tribes, George Catlin. Saddened by the world that was disappearing around him, he recorded the cowboys, soldiers, ranchers, Indians, horses and cattle of the plains in his colourful artworks. 

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From the blog

Shop The New West by Billy Schenck


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