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and Indians

A portfolio of ten screen prints, Andy Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians (1986) captures his lifelong investment in the silver screen. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Warhol was fascinated with cinema, but particularly Westerns; he even made two of his own Western movies, Horse and Lonesome Cowboys.

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Meaning & Analysis

One of his last major works before his death in 1987, Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians series captures his long term fascination with film. The series is one of his last major works completed before he died in 1987. At this point in his life, Warhol was rubbing shoulders with other Pop Art visionary artists such asJean-Michel Basquiat, David Salle, Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Warhol was fascinated with the movies, particularly Westerns. Warhol even made two Western movies, Horse and Lonesome Cowboys, and constructed his Cowboys and Indians series which depicts the famed enemies from the genre. The series also stands as a commentary on the media through iconography and popular imagery as it touches upon themes such as exploitation, war, power and ownership while also challenging the traditional concept of what constitutes Western art.

The Cowboys and Indians portfolio is comprised of 10 screen prints on Lenox Museum Board which is numbered in a limited edition of 250 plus artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, hors commerce (meaning ‘Not to sell’) and 10 in Roman numerals which are each signed and numbered in pencil. There is also an additional set of trial proofs which include a further four screen prints.

Warhol regularly produced prints looking at different ways of presenting the same image in a flattened, reductivist style. In Cowboys and Indians there are three variations on the same image which make up the portfolio with different colour and light combinations; playing with vibrancy in signature technicolour. The unique palette includes bold colour amalgamations, such as red, yellow and blue. The screen prints are accentuated by vibrant figures set against a white or pale background to emphasise the subjects and their expressions. Warhol uses a rainbow-coloured psychedelic gradient to outline. Each colour in the rainbow-coloured spectrum forming the outlines which were created by a separate screen print layers and are technically intensely intricate.

It was the first time that Warhol combined both portraiture and objects in one combined portfolio. He drew upon Native American artefacts and memorabilia with historical interest, portraying the influence of other less well known Native American icons such as Geronimo, all in juxtaposition to film, books and contemporary archetypal popular culture of the American West, which had been romanticised and interpreted by authors and film producers.

Included amongst the screen prints which depict Native Americans and their authentic emblems, such as Kachina dolls, a mask and a shield, are the famous actors John Wayne, Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt and General George Custer dressed in their costume attire as their film characters exemplifying Warhol’s preoccupation with stardom. Through this project Warhol continues to look at the concept of ‘icon’ by contrasting through themes of notoriety and anonymity, authority and victimisation.

10 Facts About Andy Warhol's Cowboys And Indians

Sitting Bull (F. & S. II.376) by Andy Warhol

Sitting Bull (F. & S. II.376) © Andy Warhol 1986

1. Warhol's Cowboys And Indians series conveys the fantasy of the American West perpetuated by mass media.

Through his use of blank, white background, Warhol removed his cowboys and Native Americans from their original context. In doing so, Warhol mimicked the reductive approach of mass media and Hollywood in their treatment of the American West. The series confronts the romanticism and distortion of history by exaggerating the media's rose-tinted perception of colonisation.

Northwest Coast Mask (F. & S. II.380) by Andy Warhol

Northwest Coast Mask (F. & S. II.380) © Andy Warhol 1986

2. Warhol photographed objects for the series in the National Museum of the American Indian, NYC.

In preparation for the creation of this series, Warhol ventured to New York's National Museum of the America Indian to inspect significant Native American objects. The photographs he took of these objects informed some of the prints in the series, like Buffalo Nickel. By stylising these objects in his typical screen printed style, Warhol emphasised the fetishisation of Native American culture maintained by the media.

War Bonnet Indian (F. & S. II.373) by Andy Warhol

War Bonnet Indian (F. & S. II.373) © Andy Warhol 1986

3. The Cowboys And Indians series was one of the last major series Warhol created before his death in 1987.

Though Warhol died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest in 1987, his Cowboys And Indians series appears like a retrospective of a subject which had fascinated him throughout his life and career. The series is testament to his childish fantasies, after watching many Hollywood Westerns, and also to his desire to learn more about the true, un-glamorised history of Native America.

John Wayne ( F. & S. II.377) by Andy Warhol

John Wayne ( F. & S. II.377) © Andy Warhol 1986