Roswell Museum and Art Center, April 1-September 18
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The Roswell Museum and Art Center launches several retrospective exhibits this year. Opening this month is a five-month exhibit for Billy Schenck, taking stock of the career of a man who has helped shape the trajectory of contemporary western art. The city-run museum—which is dedicated to the culture of the Southwest and features both a contemporary art and historical artifact collection—exhibits some 45 of Schenck’s works, spanning from 1970 to 2015. The show opens with an artist’s reception on Friday, April 1, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Sara Woodbury, curator of collections and exhibitions, helped select all of the works for the show from Schenck’s personal collection. Though most of the pieces have been seen previously, the works represent some of what Schenck considers his best—both in traditional landscape and pop art.
Inspired by one of his mentors, John Clem Clarke, Schenck has long kept two to four of the paintings he creates each year. As a young artist, Schenck was at first incredulous—then impressed—that Clarke could keep his most sellable paintings. Yet Schenck let the idea marinate, and he soon saw merit in keeping a collection for himself—and for a legacy that he hopes will include turning his Santa Fe compound into a museum.
“I paint prolifically enough that I can afford to do that,” Schenck says. “I’ve deliberately kept back really good examples of every era of my work. I occasionally buy back paintings from the secondary market,” he says. He did that recently with one painting in which he used an airbrush technique. The painting depicts John Wayne in front of the cavalry. “The palette was different from what I would do now, and I thought it was successful. To tell you the truth, I’d forgotten I’d painted John Wayne at all,” he says. Another painting in the mix is a portrait of character actor Karl Malden that hasn’t been shown since a 1973 exhibition in Belgium.
Schenck estimates he’s painted some 1,700 works, and among these 45, “a lot of them are home runs. The group has been culled. These are supersonic favorites.”
Inspired by film stills and western pulp novel covers, amongst other influences, Schenck’s work always asks the viewer to re-examine the archetypes of the West—perhaps never more so than when his work is presented in such an impressive grouping.
Even at this point in his decades-long career, Schenck likes to ask more questions than he answers. “I love to extend the mythology and turn it on its head to investigate it to the furthest extreme, to expand the boundaries, to turn clichés inside out. I’m creating a newer mythology,” he says.
As Woodbury observes, Schenck’s approach to challenging perceptions of the West invites the viewer to be playful as well. “Ultimately, it’s a celebration of the wonderfully complicated place that we live,” she says. —Ashley M. Biggers
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