You wouldn’t know it to look at the guy, but pop artist Andy Warhol was obsessed with the rough and rugged American West.
“When he passed, his estate found 27 pairs of cowboy boots,” says Emily Kapes, Curator of Art at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. “He wore them almost on a daily basis.”
Opening Saturday at the James Museum, Warhol’s West brings together original screen prints of works spanning Warhol’s career, specifically the last thing he worked on before his untimely death in 1987, a series called Cowboys & Indians.
Warhol, whose famous mantra was that everything, art included, was more or less disposable, had been fascinated with the movies-and-TV mythology of the West as a young man in the 1940s and ’50s. “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,” he said. “There’s nothing behind it.”
The James exhibit includes 69 works; most are from a private collection, and from the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia. The James team has supplemented these with other pieces.
History’s best-known pop artist utilized existing photographs, or other iconography, and applied color, motion and repetition to create something new altogether.
Along with historical figures Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Theodore Roosevelt and Annie Oakley, he made art from photos of Howdy Doody, John Wayne and, typical of the Warholian sense of humor, actress Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West.
Warhol’s West also includes the artist’s re-imagining of a portrait of 1970s Native American activist Russell Means.
Along with an image of Elvis Presley as an angry “half-breed” in the movie Flaming Star.
“I think he made art relevant, and people really enjoyed it,” Kapes says. “He really was able to vivify the source images he used. As you go through the exhibition you’ll see his Polaroids, you’ll see the old photographs, and you’ll see what he’s done with them in screen print form.”
“He really was a wonderful colorist. He had an eye, and he was very creative. I think people will relate to the imagery – and it’s something fun.”
One wall of the gallery is made up of a screen printing timeline – visitors can observe the various, painstaking stages involved in creating one of Warhol’s colorful images.
There’s also a “Make Your Own Warhol” selfie camera, which colorizes your (multiple) image, Andy-style, and then emails it to you. The technology is very similar to that in the Dali Museum gift shop, wherein the famous (and long dead) artist “poses for a picture” with museum guests.
For James Museum director Laura Hine, Warhol’s West is just part of a lengthy story she wants to tell.
“Our next exhibition is called Away From Home, and it’s about American Indian boarding schools,” Hine says. “That’s going to be an extremely powerful and important – and painful – exhibition.
“This (the Warhol exhibition) is, to me, is a chance to have a great time and still highlight the West. Many, many people know Andy Warhol.”