Westering

Over the past several years, I have been drifting in and out of imagery and history from the “wild west.” Edward S. Curtis’s photographs, Fred Zinnemann’s classic 1952 film, High Noon, and the near extinction and relocation of every indigenous presence standing in the way of western expansion have all contributed to the inspiration for this work.

Seated Bull (Tarred and Feathered)

In considering works for the Double Take exhibition at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts – in which artists were asked to create an original artwork in response to a piece in the KIA’s permanent collection – I didn’t exactly choose Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of the vainglorious General George Custer; rather, it chose me, for it triggered a reflexive feeling of opposition. Where Warhol’s Custer is devoid of historical context, I placed the (soon nearly extinct) bison in the gold-embedded Black Hills of South Dakota, hallowed Sioux land that was encroached on by gold rushers after an army expedition under Custer confirmed the presence of gold. To contrast with Warhol’s slick, flat and electric silkscreen, I chose earthy materials – thickly textured tar, gold, smudgy charcoal and pastel. Custer’s distracted gaze now falls upon the usurped land of Sitting Bull and his people, and at a figure posed as he is, representative of what was to be annihilated – an irony, given that the “Indian-fighter’s” fame rests on bringing about his own annihilation through hubris. In sum, this work is a historical rejoinder to Custer mythology. 

High Noon Series

These works, Through the Looking Glass and Then I’ll do it Myself, appropriate film stills from Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film High Noon and feature Gary Cooper as marshal Will Kane. Though it is now preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," the film was surrounded by controversy as it was being written and produced because of accusations that its screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was a Communist. Foreman eventually left the United States and was blacklisted by the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC). Cooper’s role in High Noon (as the only person in town willing to stand up and do the right thing) was held up by many in Hollywood as an honorable protest against the McCarthy witch-hunts of the era.

Then I’ll do it Myself conflates the story of The Little Red Hen with that of High Noon in that both protagonists, in the face of those around them refusing to do the right thing, choose to do it themselves.

Through the Looking Glass contains a subtle reminder of the atomic bomb testing that was underway in Nevada during the filming of High Noon in the early 1950s. The tiny reflection of an A-bomb in Gary Cooper’s eye is an allusion to the historical context in which the film was made.