Santa Fe, NM
Sorrel Sky Gallery, July 25-August 8
This story was featured in the August 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2014 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story!
The Technicolor paintings of Billy Schenck crystallize the ethos of the American West into iconic images: a lone chief on a butte, a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. As striking as they are, though, Schenck’s pop images capture something beyond simple landscape or portrait: His oils express an attitude, and his stance is a pendulum between the romantic and the irreverent.
In WHITE HEAT, a signature piece in his solo exhibition at Sorrel Sky Gallery, Schenck depicts a cowgirl empowered to fulfill her own destiny. “In most Hollywood Westerns, women were depicted as weak or out of their place in their western environs. Billy’s women are beautiful, powerful figures that demand respect,” says gallery owner Shanan Campbell Wells.
The 15 to 20 paintings featured in this show, which is titled South by Southwest and opens with an artist’s reception from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, July 25, continue Schenck’s western mythology. However, the techniques and color schemes he’s leveraged for these subjects are departures. In WHITE HEAT, for one, he’s rendered his heroine in halftone dot, an approach even more reductive than his traditional style. The result gives her the likeness of a newsmaker on the front page of a frontier paper.
Known for vibrant palettes and the hot colors that typify his chosen genre, Schenck has taken a turn to the darker side with this show. He’s deepened his palette to pure black for a nocturne effect in several paintings. Working in this range, when he selectively lifts the veil, the light becomes pronounced, squeezing more drama out of each square inch of canvas. In another compelling piece titled COWS ALL ALONE, which is also featured in the show, Schenck creates a horizontal view of Monument Valley. In the midground, a herd of cattle saunter toward three crosses. Usually, Schenck’s works focus on larger-than-life personas. In COWS ALL ALONE, however, it’s the absence of these figures that suggests narrative tension. That it is cast in the muted hues of dawn light only heightens the sense of reflection.
“I like to see emotional content, an authenticity of intent,” says the artist. Although a headliner such as Schenck, who is cited as one of the originators of the pop-western movement, could easily rely on tried-and-true methods, he has pushed himself to experiment and evolve throughout his more than 40-year career. “I want to always keep my color palette tuned to an extreme high degree and to keep it moving, so it’s not trapped in time and becomes redundant,” he says.
South by Southwest marks one of the first solo exhibitions for the Santa Fe location of Sorrel Sky Gallery, which expanded to the City Different in June from its longtime location in Durango, CO. Wells observes, “Schenck’s work exemplifies the direction of Sorrel Sky Gallery in Santa Fe: fresh western. Fresh western is about the now and the future of life in the West.” —Ashley M. Biggers
Featured in the August 2014 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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