This summer, we are asking galleries and museums to give us a closer look at a piece of art on exhibit. The Tucson Museum of Art turned to its vast collection of western art to give us a detailed view of this painting.
Christine Brindza, the Glasser curator of art of the American West at TMA, answers our questions.
Artist: Billy Schenck, born in 1947, is one of the originators of the contemporary Pop western movement. A painter based in Santa Fe, he incorporates techniques from Photo-Realism and Pop Art to both exalt and poke fun at images of the American West.
The painting: “Wyoming #44,” 1973, oil on canvas, 84 x 72 inches.
Style: Contemporary Pop Western
The art’s significance: Rendering a scene from “Once Upon a Time in the West,” a 1968 Spaghetti Western movie, Schenck creates a Pop Art image of the American West. Instead of the realistic style dominant in Western Art, Schenck uses his unique “paint-by-number” style. By combining majestic subject matter with the mass-produced, comic book aesthetic of Pop, he pokes fun at mythic imagery of the West while also perpetuating it, creating a paradox between fact and fiction. Fans of the 1968 film will recognize a further irony in the man in black — Henry Fonda, playing against type as a villainous killer.
What demands a closer look: When you see the painting in the museum gallery, the contradiction is apparent. The life-sized gunslingers, when hanging on the gallery wall, tower over the viewer. The background is the wide-open sky of the American West. Standing close to the canvas, however, the seemingly realistic image is reduced to large areas of saturated color that bring to mind comic book cowboys.