The cowboy is among the most enduring of American myths. While the classic image of the cowboy, from the distinctive hat and chaps to the iconic spurs and pistol, derives from actual cowboys who were employed in long haul cattle drives from Texas to Northern cities in the late 1800s, our early twenty-first century image of the cowboy has been profoundly shaped by popular culture. On screen, the cowboy, right or wrong, rides into town full of purpose, and rides off into the sunset confident and self assured. John Wayne and a host of other dime novel, film, and television cowboys have helped to cement the legendary, near mythic status of the American cowboy. Today, the cowboy is instantly recognized worldwide as a unique symbol of American independence and determination.
The exhibition features a video of artist, Jason Cytacki, as he invites the viewer into his gallery to hear first-hand about his artistic process and inspiration.
Yet there has always been something tragic, even fragile, about the macho persona of the cowboy. In Westerns on television and in films, the cowboy is always an outsider, someone who comes to town to solve a problem or settle a dispute, yet nevertheless someone who never really fits within the structures and confines of civilization. He does not settle down or marry; instead he rides off to the next town or the next battle. Often misunderstood and sometime tormented by personal demons, he is chased by lawmen, Indians, and vigilantes alike. He is a man with no home, a man who is forever at one border or another. The cowboy is a larger-than-life figure, too large to fit into a civilized world.
Jason Cytacki's cowboy paintings tap into the mythic as well as the tragic, fragile nature of the iconic American cowboy. Cytacki's large-scale paintings, like history paintings of old, confirm the importance of the cowboy in American culture, yet also manage to subtly subvert that mythic status, too. Instead of placing the cowboy "out West," Cytacki's large paintings place the cowboy in uncomfortable suburban melodramas. These vignettes gently remind us that the cowboy was, and always will be, a figure living on the margins of society. Yet the rich visual irony of these diorama-scapes, constructed as they are of children's toys in a suburban studio, links the cowboy, too, to the realm of childhood imagination, Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of Bonanza. In Cytacki's smaller cowboy paintings, the artist recreates famous Hollywood cowboys from publicity stills. Through loose, expressionistic brushwork, Cytacki turns these celebrity images into brooding, introspective portraits filled with doubt, remorse, and vulnerability. Like Andy Warhol, Cytacki reinterprets an American pop icon. In the process, he makes us see the cowboy as an imperfect symbol for an imperfect time.