Review: ‘Into the West’ is sexy, self-righteous

Review by Anthony Bannon

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Tracey Stuckey’s work is influenced by pop culture, with works like “Slue Footed Sue” and “Florida Cowboy,” which are part of the “Into the West” exhibition in the Strohl Art Center.

This could have been designed as a sexy show. Well, at least provocative.  Maybe PG-13.

Clever, too, camouflaged as an exhibition called “Into the West,” upstairs in the Strohl Art Center.

I blame Mary Mazziotti from Pittsburgh for starting me off on the idea with her two kinky portraits of cowgirls — one young lady with a phallic pistol and a leather skirt and I don’t think I should go any further. Her other painting is of a provocative coquette with her ropes, if you get my drift, partner.

Now, this theory about Curator Judy Barie’s exhibition takes a certain measure of discernment; that is granted. But I tested my theory on a few visitors and received confirmation, and I asked Barie and she said, “If that is what you think …”

Tracey Stuckey, bona fide from Fort Collins, Colorado, shared at the Strohl last year, and he is still at it with his bizarre band of Western ne’er-do-wells, whom he claims are really mythic or romanticizing of popular culture where a man is a man and a real woman has heaps of true grit. I think Stuckey’s big words and references to the traditions of movies, music, fiction, art, fashion and various states of mind are a dodge for simply not being willing to reveal that these are the folks he knows from down the street.

There may be a big Colorado University nearby Fort Collins where the Peace Corps was established, and Fort Collins does have more than its share of fancy restaurants and book stores, but I believe these outriders of Stuckey’s have nothing to do with schooling or other fine things. They are the artist’s secret cronies, such as:

• “Slue Foot Sue,” whom he depicts in a cheerleader’s yahoo jump with her golden six-shooter and rhinestone belt and fancy boots and the full moon nearby — actually in orbit nearby — just off her rear end, for whatever that may mean.

• “Florida Cowboy” might be Slue’s boyfriend. This Florida Panhandle fella was probably out to the real West for a visit. Anyway, he has a big hemp whip as he rides a heavily bridled horse, which doesn’t seem to like his black T-shirt handling a bit, so the bronco is kicking out. The rider is just nasty enough to be interesting to Slue Sue, but to help his cause he has brought along a few pink flamingos to soften his act if at all necessary.

• There is another painting with a guy who is gagged and on the ground and a girl who is riding hard with a rope right at him, but I won’t go any further with this one either.

We’ll move along to Geoffrey Gorman from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who made a large stick and stuffed canvas horse festooned with throwaway stuff such as can openers, a latch, a spring and various bangles, the horsey assembly all mounted on a wagon reminiscent of the half-live/half-inert Dead Father that an army wheeled around in the novella of the same name by the late Donald Barthelme, and his book had an odd sexuality to it.

But that is about it for the sexy show. Maybe the show was meant to be half sexy and half righteous. That is a possibility.

Dave Shumway, the National Geographic photographer, put a stake in the ground for the righteous side of the show with large overly saturated chromatic digital prints mounted on aluminum. One is about grazing horses and the rainbow, and it is called “A Moment in Time,” and another picture of a redder-than-red barn is titled “Time Stood Still.” You get the picture.

There are several others.

Roseta Santiago, who made art for theme restaurants and recently for 30 Bass Pro stores, has nice small paintings of Acoma pottery and a symbolic painting of a unisex, long-haired Native American playing a flute within an orange environment — perhaps from the glow of a campfire off screen.

Jamie Zane-Smith is a master ceramist, working in the language tradition he identifies as Wyandot, the language of the Huron people, a part of the Iroquois nation living in the eastern Great Lakes basin and along the St. Lawrence.

The Huron once centered in southern Ontario, but are now are disbursed from Quebec City to Oklahoma. Zane-Smith learned his art from his grandfather in Oklahoma, and it is fine, fired vessel and platter shapes with interesting contemporary design liberties yet retaining the red glaze and  presumptive tribal notations, which, on serious merit, are the prize works of the small exhibition in the Bellowe Family Gallery, continuing through the season.

As for the sexy part, Stuckey is hard to beat. His work should be installed each year as gathering magnets for gallery conversation nooks.

Judy Barie, director of the galleries, organized the exhibition.

Anthony Bannon is the director of The Burchfield Penney Art Center and research professor at SUNY Buffalo State. He was the art critic for The Buffalo News and longtime director of George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York.