Western Women

Western Women
Allison Sawmill
Found 01/2016, Goodwill (183 and Metric)

With a title likeĀ Western Women it is impossible to see Sawmill’s surreal work as other than a commentary on gender and identity, and in this, it works on levels. The moon itself is a powerful feminine symbol, associated with mystery and the cycle of birth and death. The deep red of the canvas suggests blood, or primal nature (again, often mythologically associated with the female domain, the mysterious yin to the hard-edged yang). But who, the artist challenges us, are the titular “western women?” The positive answer would be that their spirit is embodied in the figure of the horse–dynamic, alive, celebratory. It almost dances on the canvas as it leads the strange skeletal figures across the night-time plains. The horse is Nietzche’s dancing star.

Yet the cattle could be the subject of the picture, a dark reversal–led to the slaughter, “dead men (or women) walking.” These stenciled, desiccated things are identical and without identity, without life, proceeding endlessly forward, darkly suggesting the devil’s herd of “Ghost Riders In the Sky.” It is difficult to discern how to interpret the image from this morbid perspective. And yet the title–“women,” not “woman”–leaves this open. In fact, it leaves both open.

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