Charlie Russell wasn’t that fond of cavalry. His thing was Indians. After all, the family branch called the Bents (see the excellent biography called “Half-Breed”), famous for their trading fort rather than any war fort, included Indians. Charlie loved to dress up as an Indian, not a cavalryman, and it was not to mock Indians that he hung out with them as much as he could. Remington was the guy who loved cavalry, though horses groaned when they saw his size. (Anne Morand, the curator at the CM Russell Museum, made her reputation as an expert on Remington, esp. a brilliant show organizing together Remington’s night paintings.)
Genetics as a way of sorting makes less sense when dealing with so-called Western art than dividing them between Remington-types and Russell-types. Remington-types are from back east, more invested in class and education, and more aligned with the cavalry/Republican/manifest-destiny sympathies. Russell was more like James Willard Schultz, an Indian wannabe, and it is surprising that Charlie didn’t marry an Indian. He did romance a few. I would suggest that Nancy Russell was a Remington-type, if not a Mrs. Custer, who saw the route to a comfortable life as through sales in the east. Nancy was right, but she had to nearly lock Charlie up.
Remington had a shadow, an artist whose work was close enough to be easily mistaken for Remington’s, except that Charlie was pretty good friends with his own painter/shadow, O.C. Seltzer, and Remington was NOT happy about Schreyvogel. The back-east art experts have not much picked up on Schreyvogel, who was around this country in the early twentieth century, about the same time as Sharp and others. He stayed in Blackfoot, Montana, and left paintings behind him which were mostly burned when the former station agent, Mr. Carberry, had a house fire. It killed and consumed Mr. C. as well, but not his daughter who sometimes babysat Bob Scriver. It’s odd that nothing has been made of Schrevogel since Bob and I saw his studio contents at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Sixties, complete with an oil 8” X 10” view of the Rockies from Browning. Those were the Dean Krakel visionary years when the focus was not so much on profit and prestige.
The best overview of the Northern Plains Western artists is still Dale Burk’s “New Interpretations,” unless you’re looking for insight into politics, in which case Father Schoenberg’s account of the founding of MONAC (a museum dedicated to Indian art and attached somehow to Gonzaga University, but which collapsed after a couple of decades) is instructive. I will not summarize for fear of libel suits. Father Schoenberg is dead. Others involved are not. Dale Burk is still alive and publishing but doesn’t write about art anymore. www.stoneydale.com/
The “marker” artist for the northern plains is not a cowboy artist, but rather Carl Rungius, whose studio was in Banff. He painted scenery and animals, which have escaped politics until recently when environmental concerns heated up. Rungius is dead. But Russell Chatham is another good scenery “marker” artist (he’s alive, born on the same day as myself). Winold Reiss is another northern plains artist who has been somewhat lifted up but he’s a portrait artist, not an action painter. Cowboy art aficionadoes want action, someone being killed.
But they will NOT want Kent Monkman’s idea of action, or rather “post” action. QUOTE: "The Romantic tradition of westward expansion and colonial nation-building is radically revised by the artist Ken Monkman in his fantastic vision of idyllic free-for-all pioneer orgies, flamboyant performance personas and other high-spirited interventions into historical mythology." See www.kenmonkman.com A show of his work is just opening in Calgary. From his website: “Kent Monkman is an artist of Cree ancestry who works in a variety of media including painting, film/video, performance and installation. Monkman has exhibited widely within Canada, and is well represented in numerous private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, UK, and Bailey Fine Arts, Toronto.” The show is “ The Triumph of Mischief,” (solo), Glenbow Museum, Calgary, February 13 – April 25, 2010.
He’s painting Moran landscapes with NA warriors lolling along the edge of the lake among the bodies of their cavalry victims (US, not RCMP). The Indians are identified as “Achilles and Patroclus” who are figures at the heart of the Trojan War. Consult Brad Pitt rather than the condom company.
Take a look. No feathers. Not even a feather boa. (He’s gay.) His painting of a boudoir of a berdache features a French reclining couch, a bison hide rug, expensive luggage, and the kind of crystal chandelier once beloved of R. C. Gorman. (Do not ask anyone associated with either of the two Charlie Russell auctions about R. C. Gorman, though they are experts on the SW, where his studio was in Taos.)
Monkman’s version of the “End of the Trail,” centerpiece of the Cowboy Hall of Fame, is reinterpreted via the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, in which a skillful sculptor creates a statue of a young woman so beautiful that he falls in love with it. (“My Fair Lady.”) In sympathy for him, the gods bring her to life. In this case, the curly-headed sculptor is on tiptoe to kiss the Indian on his exhausted horse and the Indian has come to life.
The significance in terms of this blog post is that the show, both intellectual and socially avant garde, is in Calgary -- the northern plains. Great Falls has become an outpost of the SW. It was already a cavalry post, if you think about Malmstrom. Charlie would have laughed. Remington -- who once painted a cavalryman wearing a lady’s sunbonnet -- would have looked away, blushing.
Nancy Russell had no time for such nonsense. What counted to her was the money, honey, and if it hadn’t been for her, Charlie might have starved among his friends, who sometimes starved themselves. At least the friends he picked out himself because you can’t really count customers. The whole nation is Nancy Russell Country now. We’re all just buying and selling.
Monkman is an entirely new type, a metis in several ways, classically educated, as skillful as the new Chinese-taught painters, with the sharp satirical edge of the supposed outsider, who is now an insider. His warrior heroes wear no uniforms (they don’t wear much of anything); their allegiance is to their human relationships. Come to think about it, that’s sorta like Charlie.