Westerns

Artist Statement

The work in this series comprises large functional quilts, wall works, small pieced/painted collages, drawings, and a 9'h x 35'w mixed media panorama produced in the spirit of the mid-nineteenth century painted panoramas of the fictional west. Panoramas could run thousands of feet in length. They were mounted as horizontal scrolls that unwound, and were shown accompanied by music and spoken narrative as theatrical presentations, literal moving pictures before the advent of film. In making the work about westerns I revisited the genre that influenced my own childhood, the TV programs of The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy, the TV reruns of the Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and the great B westerns from the '30's and '40's.

Early Hollywood Westerns depict absolute values around the subjects of law and order, the individual and society. A reified Code of The West defines what it means to be a man. Alternatives to that definition, ambiguities and questions left unanswered, only began to arise in the late ‘40’s and early '50's in the films of Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Anthony Mann. Early westerns, from the silent films through the early '50's contextualized issues of race, class, and culture in a particularly narrow but broadly popular form. They kept alive pre- and post-Civil War passions for white supremacy and manifest destiny. These movies, fictionalized versions of the "Old West", set up models, stereotypes, archetypical heroes, heroines, villains. In an especially powerful cinematic way they fueled our fantasy life and lured us toward an idealized dream landscape of desire, possibility and freedom, an inverted Shangri-La where Top Gun holds sway. 

Many men, who continue to be the prime audience for westerns, remember minute details from important scenes in particular films. It is as if the movie was a spectator sport. The viewer identifies with and internalizes rules for the most advantageous behavioral game by memorizing the play-by-play. Western films from directors Sergio Leone through Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood, Lawrence Kasdan, Kevin Costner, Ang Lee, and the Coen Bros. among others, expand the psychological scope of the characters and narratives, range of behaviors depicted, issues considered, and therefore the discourse in the popular culture. My viewing of western films and the art I make about them is an investigation of identity and culture. The art-making seeks to provide objects that are inclusive and open to the subjective interpretation of others, art that is accessible to a popular audience and which provokes discussion, art that invites participation from a non-elitist position of inclusiveness.