In 1968, Andy Warhol carted a band of his Factory regulars—downtown New York cool kids—to the cacti-flecked desert outside Tucson, Arizona. They were there to shoot a Western of Warholian proportions: Strapping, shirtless cowboys wrestled in dust clouds while the mistress of the ghost town ogled them. In an image captured by Bob Broder during filming, Warhol squints into the camera while wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat, its brim smushing into the machine as he shoots.
Unbeknown to many of Warhol’s admirers, the Pop art king had a near-lifelong fascination with the American West and the myths that buoy it. While this obsession surfaced many times in the artist’s work, extensive collections of art and ephemera, and even sartorial choices (his archives contain 27 pairs of cowboy boots), scholarship around it has been scant. That is changing, however, with a new exhibition, “Warhol and the West,” opening later this month at the Booth Museum, in collaboration with Tacoma Art Museum and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The show, along with its comprehensive, thoughtful catalogue, are unearthing an essential—if controversial—facet of Warhol’s output.
Seth Hopkins, the Booth’s executive director and mastermind behind the exhibition (he’s been researching the subject for over 10 years), traces Warhol’s interest in the West back to the artist’s youth. “Like most kids his age growing up in the ’30s and ’40s, he remembered the best periods of his childhood as the Saturday mornings when his mom gave him 15, 20, 25 cents—whatever it was—to go to the movies,” Hopkins told Artsy. “He would have undoubtedly seen a lot of Westerns. They dominated the film scene at the time.”
One of the earliest objects in the show, Warhol’s childhood movie star scrapbook, evidences these formative experiences. The yellowed album contains hundreds of film title cards and autographs, including photos of Western stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, who routinely played gun-toting cowboys. The artist’s “Time Capsules,” a series of artworks containing nostalgic objects Warhol collected throughout his life, have unearthed a Roy Rogers alarm clock and picture books with titles like Prairie Bill and the Covered Wagon and Buffalo Bill and Custer’s Last Stand.
Imagery inspired by the mythological American West promoted in the popular and commercial culture of Warhol’s youth began to emerge in his work as early as 1963, five years after critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term “Pop art.” His 1963 silkscreen painting Elvis 11 Times [Studio Type]borrows a publicity shot from the iconic country singer and actor’s 1960 Western flick Flaming Star. In the movie, Elvis plays the son of a Native American mother and white father caught in the middle of a battle between his mother’s tribe and racist white settlers. Warhol repeated the image 95 times over 36 paintings. Warhol routinely denied that his work contained social commentary or political messaging. “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it,” he famously said. – Read the full article – Artsy