Rodney Graham

Rodney Graham, Dance!!!!!, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Rodney Graham, Dance!!!!!, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London

Rodney Graham (b.1949, Vancouver), an artist difficult to categorise, creates complex and intellectually inventive works in film, photography, painting, sculpture, music and books. Representing literature, folklore, historical and filmic genres, Graham’s works use appropriation, transformation and ardent repetition. Integrating wit and humour with in-depth philosophical studies of his subjects, he creates visual puns, frequently placing himself at the centre of the action playing the roles he investigates.

One of Graham’s long-standing artistic fascinations is with the myth of the American West, something he investigates through its cultural familiarity. He focuses on the emblematic figure of the cowboy – poised between cultural reality and cultural mythology. Much of what is known and believed about the West is based entirely upon fiction – mediated through Hollywood films, music, legends and myth. We know little about its actuality. Graham exploits this, creating additional elusive readings and narratives to the enduring myth.

How I Became a Ramblin’ Man (1999) a narrative film shot in the picturesque countryside of the American West, shows a lone cowboy, played by Graham, strolling into scene with his horse, and stopping to sing a song. Each subsequent shot mirrors the cowboy’s arrival and loops continuously. The song reflected his solitary country life, and the cowboy is in an endlessly repeating cycle where he contemplated his existence. The film plays on the Western genre and was presented in a highly cinematic style.

Paradoxical Western Scene (2006) a light box, references the infamous Western ‘wanted’ poster but is actually a pastiche of an album cover by country singer Martyn Robbins. The artist is dressed as a cowboy walking past a tree where a ‘WANTED’ poster was pinned. The poster has an image of Graham walking past a tree and thus creating a cascading effect of an image within an image within an image. The use of the word ‘paradoxical’ in the title is effective and exploratory: it is inherently what Graham aims to do with much of his practice, revealing much of what is known about the Western to be absurd fiction, yet revealing its possible truths.

In his work for MADE UP entitled Dance!!!!! (2008), Graham continued his conversation with the myth of the American West. With his customary deadpan humour, the image depicted a scene from countless Hollywood Westerns: a man being forced to dance in a saloon by another man, six-gun in hand, shooting bullets at his feet. Graham, at the right of the picture, was suspended in mid-air avoiding the bullets. This work, a quotation from Western film and legend, offered another tongue-in-cheek pastiche of an archetypal moment from the genre – good against evil and reciprocal humiliation. By isolating a frequently repeated and peculiar moment Graham questioned the ‘true’ origin of every Western scene held in our collective cultural memory.

Rodney Graham at Liverpool Biennial 2008

Two painted aluminum lightboxes with transmounted chromogenic transparencies
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Supported by

Lisson Gallery
London and Canada House Arts Trust