Bill Schenck

Bill Schenck

(1947- )

Bill Schenck is a contemporary American painter who incorporates techniques from Photo-Realism with a Pop Art sensibility to both exalt and poke fun at images of the West. Like the heroes he idolized in B-Westerns, Schenck might well be called the "Good Badman" of Western American art. Mythical yet real, contemporary yet traditional, grounded in geography but not confined by it, narrative but not illustrative, serious yet humorous, comic and tragic, Schenck's paintings make us reflect on universal paradoxes.

Early in his career, he became known for appropriating cinematic imagery, which he reproduced in a flattened, reductivist style, where colors are laid side by side rather than blended or shadowed. Drawing upon narrative tensions that have attracted mass audiences to western fiction and movies, Schenck added hot colors, surreal juxtapositions and stylized patterning to explore clashes between wilderness and civilization, the individual and community, nature and culture, freedom and restriction. 

Shenck's irreverence in associating western heroes with racism, the drug scene, consumerism and sexuality let to an evolving series of works. Among them one finds deserts populated with cowgirls sipping champagne on the bumpers of Rolls Royces, Native Americans contemplating the statistics of their land loss, and serialized self-portraits of the artist in leather and sunglasses.

Born in the Midwest in 1947, raised in Lander, Wyoming, a quintessential baby-boomer, Bill Schenck attended the Columbus College of Art and Design from 1965 to 1967. He then transferred to the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1969. One week after graduation, he moved to the Soho district of New York City, where many first generation Photo-Realists, Color Field, and Minimalist painters were gaining national and international acclaim. 

Schenck became loosely associated with this early group of Photo-Realists and attained gallery representation both in Europe and in New York City. His first solo show in New York sold out when he was 24 years old. Over the next several years, Schenck had four solo shows in New York City and a successful solo show in Brussels, Belgium. He was also included in many group shows in France, Italy and Switzerland during this time period.

In the mid-1970s, a growing fascination with the simple lifestyle that was emulated in his paintings encouraged Schenck to move back to the West, this time dividing his time between Arizona and Wyoming. Now the artist had real-life situations from which to draw upon for his compositions and he made increasing use of his own photography, eventually diminishing the use of the fantasy-based movie stills in favor of a new passion for the true American West. Bill Schenck moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1997 where new influences and aspirations emerged.

Since 1971, Schenck has had 85 solo shows, 77 group shows, and is included in 40 museum collections worldwide. His work is found in major collections throughout the world and has been the subject of four museum retrospectives.

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