Cawein Gallery of Art Presents: Break Your Pony by Dagny Walton
The Cawein Gallery of Art is proud to unveil its first exhibition for Fall 2021 — Break Your Pony by Dagny Walton. The showcase will run through Oct. 7, and is available for viewing weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, or contact Tyler Brumfield, Art & Design professor and gallery manager at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
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Dagny Walton was born in Fort Collins, Colorado, a college town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. They left Colorado to pursue an undergraduate degree in Classical Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Their degree primarily focused on mythology and religious practices, an interest that they have carried into their work on the American West. Since leaving Vancouver they live in Missoula, Montana where they are pursuing their Masters in fine art. While all of their pieces start off as computer files, they have recently taken up screen-printing as a means to give the digital work life.
To love the American West is to love a profoundly ugly ideal. The glorified history of westward expansion is racist and blood-splattered. The land is beautiful, but blighted for the sake of extractive industry or victimized by endless wildfires. The myth of the West is a fever dream. Despite the chaos and occasional presence of violence in my pieces, I often feel comforted by making them, as though they’re supplying the answers to something I must have always known but had never heard spoken out loud. The culture and history of this place begs to be ordered, for some sense to be made out of the ruin. I enjoy injecting remnants of ancient mythology into my pieces — creatures and symbols from millennia of collective unconscious. The presence of these remnants helps me to further make sense of the West by understanding it in terms much older than its own miniscule but turbulent history.
I also employ the use of new symbols in my work, creating my own kind of modern pantheon for the West. The cowboy is the West’s hero-icon, a symbol of core American values — freedom, toughness, expansion. His presence is ubiquitous here. Western films parade the cowboy as the gun-toting embodiment of a leathery frontier existence. Painters like Charles Marion Russell imagined the West as Edenic, with the cowboy acting as an unofficial steward for the land and its creatures. Now cowboys sell us cigarettes and hard liquor in dusty highway gas stations.
I use the cowboy’s multi-faceted, multi-purpose image as the cornerstone of a cultural critique of the American West. I also take our mountains and deserts, and these become the backdrop for a world of masculine fantastique. In my pieces, I present cowboys that cross the line between toughness and brutality, that enact theatrical displays of violence, and that idly watch the steady, unstoppable destruction of the land we covet.
Nowhere else in the United States is there a concept of regionalism this concrete or this messy, nor is there another region which so entirely encompasses the self-made construct of what the United States is. The cowboy, the West’s undying mythological hero, stands for toughness edging towards cruelty, expansion that spills into rapacity, and acquisitiveness that all but guarantees total destruction. Without the cowboy, America as we know it wouldn’t exist.