John Wayne 377 is one of the ten screenprints included in Andy Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians portfolio. Warhol published the portfolio in 1986, exploring the folklore of western America and the fanaticism of the old west. Aside from John Wayne 377, Warhol portrays notable figures associated with the west such as Geronimo, Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt, and General Custer, alongside Native American figures and motifs.
The John Wayne 377 screenprint depicts the famous actor, known as a leading figure of Hollywood’s Golden Age, especially in the western genre. The screenprint references a publicity photo of Wayne in character for his 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The screenprint reflects the persona, cast, and character of John Wayne, one that overshadowed the actor’s real identity, Marion Robert Morrison. Wayne was regarded as an American icon due to the roles he took on throughout his career. Primarily cast in heroic roles, Wayne transformed himself through his successful career.
The complete portfolio addresses the power that mass media has when it comes to our understanding of the historical west. The commentary implies the publics’ distorted imagination of the era due largely to Hollywood magic. Warhol himself was fascinated by old western films, reflected in his projects Lonesome Cowboys and Horse from the 1960s.
John Wayne 377 is one of the most iconic from the series. Warhol perfectly addresses our imagination of western figures and motifs by using Pop Art to further decontextualize these familiar images (rather than portraying them in a historically accurate manner). Warhol’s particular style of representing culture in the Cowboys and Indians portfolio can also be found in works like Ads (1985) and Myths (1981). In projects such as these, Warhol uses Pop Art to capture a deeper side of pop culture, effectively capturing the sensationalism of symbols, rather than simply reproducing their likeness.