Tracy Stuckey’s monumental Red, White, and Blue El Camino captures the grandeur, commercial blight, and touristic culture of the Far West, a clashing matrix of elements that simultaneously celebrate, denigrate, and sentimentalize one of America’s seminal sources of mythology. Two women, one wearing garish Western garb, the other sporting a bikini—a kind of stateside archetypal fantasy figure herself—photograph a salesman in an Sioux headdress sitting cross-legged on his used-car lot. A red El Camino—one of many car models with a name evocative of the Old West—is parked beneath the lot’s fluttering red plastic flags, which frame a view of the desert and distant mountain range as grand as any in a classic Western, except for the contemporary city sprawled along the base. The light falls pitilessly on the concrete lot, casting the figures, with their dark, dwarfed shadows, into dramatic relief; it has the soulless cast of a florescent fixture, such as would illuminate a carpet store. The vague hammerhead shape rising over the cloud mass in the distance portends a possible storm. The car lot looks makeshift and provisional in the vast landscape, and the figures seem irreverent in their costumes of leisure, which satirize the rigors of the frontier, therefore strangely vulnerable. Despite the composition’s bright colors and the narrative’s inanity, there’s a sense of unease; somehow, the landscape retains its dignity, and one senses it’s not to be messed with.
Stuckey, a native of Florida, now lives in West Virginia, where he and his wife both teach art at West Virginia University. Previously, they spent six years in Albuquerque, attending graduate school at the University of New Mexico, and in 2007, while he was still living out West, Stuckey started his series of large-scale figurative paintings, trying to make sense of the Western landscape he’d come to love, along with his romantic notions of it. The paintings are about “my own personal experience of being a tourist and an outsider glimpsing the reality of the West,” Stuckey says. “How we play up the romantic notion of the West and the landscape and the people made for a perfect avenue for me as a figure painter to add narrative to my work. It’s about the reality versus the romanticism.”
Stuckey initially constructs his paintings from diverse images derived from various sources, pieced together on the computer into an image that he photoshops, then copies at a blown-up scale onto the canvas, often making adjustments. In Red, White, and Blue El Camino, the model for the salesman was a combination of Stuckey’s legs and a picture of Sitting Bull; his wife posed for the middle figure, wearing stuff culled from her closet, while the bikinied woman was a found image.
Stuckey continues to work on the series in his basement studio in West Virginia. Besides the large narrative paintings, he has painted a series of male and female torsos as well as monumental images of meat, but for now, he’s still spellbound by Western themes, studying John Wayne and Sergio Leone films to better grasp the power of the widescreen.
Red, White, and Blue El Camino is currently on view at the Ann Street Gallery, 104 Ann Street, Newburgh, as part of the “Human Form: An Enduring Inspiration” group exhibition, through November 12. (845) 562-6940; www.annstreetgallery.org.