‘COWBOYS’

I have been working on this new body of paintings for the past 18 months, exploring further the connection between painting and cinema, and the power of The Cowboy as a potent symbol in popular culture.

I have become more concerned with The Cowboy exploring the duality of it’s symbolism of freedom and adventure, or of threat and menace. I never fall down on either side of these notions preferring to leave those aspects to be ambiguous.

With some of the work, notably Pink Posse, Henry Fonda Pause, Wild Bunch Cowboy Pause, Wild Bunch Cowboys, Rearing Horse, I have used a framing device often used when viewing a film on TV or computer screens, which is there to preserve the image from being distorted when shown on a different aspect ratio. These framing devices are letter boxing or pillar boxing, which when translated into a large painted format provokes a heightened sense of cinema and modern form of escapism.

Trish Wylie 2010

 

Forward by Christopher Frayling

The great director of Western movies John Ford was, as he often said, inspired by the frontier paintings of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russel; and landscape painters such as Thomas Moran for their big widescreen deserts. Over in Italy, Sergio Leone preferred De Chirico’s pictures of Ariadne with a steam locomotive in the background – surrealism rides the range – and when he was feeling skittish, Las Meninas by Velasquez which he often went to see in the Prado. Directors of Westerns to a surprising extent found their visuals in art reproductions or galleries. Leone even had a De Chirico on the wall of his living-room, in Rome. But the results,whether filmed in Hollywood, Monument Valley, Cinecitta or Almeria, were intended to travel through the gate of a projector at twenty-four frames per second, always in motion, a kinetic experience. An elderly cowboy once buttonholed me, in Elko Nevada, and said: “you know the difference between your country and mine? Well in your country you stand for parliament and in my country you run for Congress!” I hope this was original, though it has to be said that it sounds a bit like a piece of crackerbarrel philosophy from Mark Twain. Or maybe Will Rogers.

Trish Wylie takes individual moments from great Western movies – and other movies – not necessarily the best-known ones – and gives them a big presence on the wall: presence in terms of concept, scale, colour and technique. She seems particularly drawn to post-1950s Westerns, which were already becoming self-conscious about the old myths and aware of themselves as films in dialogue with other films, sites of second order meanings rather than first order meanings.

Her paintings take this process one stage further, by re-mythologising the old frames of film and turning them into hallowed events. Bigging them up again. Something like Campbell’s Soup Cans, only more so, more painterly, and starting with images that were mythic in the first place rather than stacked on supermarket shelves.

The word “icon” is much abused these days, since it became secularised and uncoupled from ritual, applied to everything from buildings to celebrities to products to advertisements to recipes. But Trish Wylie’s paintings really do aim to be pieces of iconography, in the sense that they mediate the viewer’s relationship with contemporary figures of myth, providing in the process a hotline to the gods of the silver screen.

Norma Desmond famously says, in Billy Wilder’s film “Sunset Boulevard”,”I’m still big – its the pictures that got small”. Trish Wylie could say the same and she’d be right.

Christopher Frayling – August 2010

Sir Christopher Frayling was until recently Rector of the Royal College of Art and Chair of Arts Council England. A writer and award-winning broadcaster, he has published eighteen books on aspects of modern culture, including several on the Western film.