Andy Warhol's Cowboys and Indians Series

Posted by Edward Kurstak on

At the zenith of his international fame in the 1960s and 70s, Warhol became renowned for producing copies upon copies of American pop icons: celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Marlon Brando, oversized Brillo pad boxes, paintings of Campbell's soup cans and more. In doing so, his work synthesized highbrow and lowbrow tastes and suggested that the commercial, mass-marketed world of midcentury US capitalism was indeed worthy of observation and reflection in fine art, as well as critical scrutiny.

Warhol would continue this critique of both the art world and the US popular imagination in the 1980s with his Cowboys and Indian series, wherein he makes a statement about how the mass-produced images we see of our national history affect our understanding of that history. 

To achieve this message, Warhol again used images of popular mass media icons—this time those associated with the "heroes" of the American West such as John Wayne, Annie Oakley, Geronimo, General Custer, Buffalo Bill and more. But instead of portraying these icons within their historical context, Warhol removed them from their backgrounds and painted over their images in his own style. As a result, the series suggests that the popular imagination of the American West is in fact not far off from a Campbell's soup can: nothing if not fabricated, mass produced and worthy of scrutiny. The Hollywood-ification of the American West, Warhol's series seems to express, portrays the West as a series of untruths. 

In part due to this series, as well as the sheer amount of work he produced in the 1980s, Warhol saw a returned focus from the critical establishment on his art. He also spent these years mentoring and idea-sharing with young rising stars in the New York art world such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, each of whom would also express ideas critical of both American consumerism and the value of images within the popular consciousness. 

Selections from Warhol's Cowboys and Indian series such as a silkscreen print of John Wayne can be found in Edward Kurstak's portofolio.