Originally featured in Points West magazine in Fall/Winter 2015
Western Art by John Giarrizzo
Though the field of art history is often divided into periods, styles, and schools, there are some bold artists who choose to challenge and, indeed, play upon these categorizations. By incorporating into their own work elements of our art historical past, some artists engage with the longstanding tradition of art making, and celebrate—as well as challenge—art history’s legacy.
Western Art, a mixed media collage depicting James Earl Fraser’s End of the Trail (1915) layered atop Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ (1603 – 1604), is an outstanding representation of this practice. The work was created in 2009 by John Giarrizzo, a native of Powell, Wyoming, and is a phenomenal homage to the past, as well as a commentary on the relationship between, and categorization of, European art versus American art. The title hints at the often-confusing labels of “Western art” (i.e., Western European art) and “western American art” (i.e., art created in or about the American West).
In Giarrizzo’s collage, the highly dramatic and realistic scene reminiscent of Caravaggio’s painting dominates the left side of the image, while a black and white pen and ink drawing of Fraser’s work commands the right side. The latter overlaps the colorful Caravaggio in a way that is not overpowering, but, rather, makes a compelling case for the connections between “Western” and “western American” art.
According to the artist, the juxtaposition of the subjects is also a statement about the “exhaustion of time.” Some of the ideals that guide artists today were established during the European Renaissance. With this collage, Giarrizzo questions whether we are at the end of our trail creatively, or if a new artistic Renaissance awaits us.
John Giarrizzo (b. 1955). Western Art, 2009. Multimedia collage on paper, 8 x 12 inches. Gift of the artist. 41.09