No one does Western Pop art like Billy Schenck. Drawing inspiration from Western movies and landscape photography, Schenck paints a portrait of the West through a Pop art lens. A retrospective of his 50-year career, titled Myth of the West, is on view at Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA) alongside Andy Warhol: Cowboys and Indians.
A founder of the Western Pop movement, Schenck combines influences from his many artist-heroes in the Pop movement, including Roy Lichtenstein, in his exploration of every aspect of the West’s potent iconography. In his early work, Schenck found inspiration and image sources in Western paintings and movie stills, but later relocated permanently to the West.
Being a genuine cowboy himself, with a world champion belt buckle at his waist, Schenck increasingly turned to his personal photographs for material. With his signature reductivist style, Schenck transformed traditional Western images from a realist’s replica for detail into flat, sharply defined, simplified areas of color and stylized patterns.
“Schenck didn’t invent Pop art,” said Jessica Kinsey, executive director of SUMA. “But he is perpetuating the movement through Western Pop and remaining authentic to who he is: a cowboy.”
Alongside Schenck’s work is Warhol’s last major project before he passed in 1987, Cowboys & Indians. The suite of screenprints pays tribute to the archetypal symbols of a popular romanticized version of the American West. Works include portraits of Annie Oakley, John Wayne, Sitting Bull, and iconic imagery like the buffalo nickel and kachina dolls. Now iconic itself, the Cowboys and Indians series is a time capsule of America in the 1980s, when we had a cowboy in the White House.
The two companion exhibitions were organized by the Briscoe Western Art Museum. They will be on view at SUMA from January 19 through March 19, 2022. SUMA is located on the campus of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. The museum is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. More information about the exhibition and related programs can be found at go.suu.edu/westernpop.