If, as Jackson Pollock said, “Every good painter paints what he is,” then Billy Schenck is a man of fiery juxtaposition. Consider the characters he communes with in his latest foray, a Teton travelogue: there’s Edith Sargent, serenading settlers in the buff atop a horse blanket; there’s Jaws, now retired in Jackson Lake yet no less rapacious; and there’s the only-in-the-Tetons pony express-turned-UPS guy, scaling Mount Moran to deliver a saddle.
As the quixotic cast list suggests, a wryness pervades Schenck’s new paintings: the Jenny Lake Boat Tours sail as a galleon-style conquest at war with park rangers; cowboys cower at the sight of wolves; cowgirls wield rifles as romance; and paradise is twofaced. By his brush, real life lacks the crisp clarity of his Pop palette; everything exists in complicated counterpoint.
The dichotomies that distinguish the New West—that he knows so well having lived in Wyoming, Arizona and now New Mexico—become bemusing bedfellows on his cinematic canvases: history and modernity; wilderness and civilization; self and society; nature and culture; freedom and oppression. Morality and myth blend in ways his colors never do.
Born in the Midwest, Schenck chose to plant himself and his practice in the American West, flying in the face of the success he found in New York when he sold out his first solo show at only 24 years old. Continuing to forge a fusion of Photo-Realism and Pop Art, he followed his heart back West, back to the romance of his childhood summers spent exploring the wilderness near in Lander, Wyoming. And West he remains, working in the rich, frictional terrain of Western fictions, where cowboys riding off into the sunset are actually—curtain lifted—galloping off the satirical stage of modern heroism. To their demise or their redemption? Only Schenck knows.
Billy’s Teton Travelogue opens July 2, toasts Schenck on July 5 with an Artist Reception, and runs through July 14 at Altamira Fine Art. For more information on the exhibition and Schenck, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email (connect@AltamiraArt.com) or phone (307-739-4700).