Paul Gorman is…

The Cowboys came from Colt Studio

//Longhorns Dance by Colt (Jim French) from Manpower! issue 7, 1974.//

My theorising over the roots of the Cowboys t-shirt has uncovered the true source of the main image: a 1969 drawing by the artist Jim French reproduced in a 1974 issue of his magazine Manpower!.

French has an international following for his gay-themed photographic + illustrative work, via his Colt Studio image-bank and work as “Rip Colt” and “Luger”.

Anthropologist Ted Polhemus pointed to the existence of the French original a few years back*, so I made contact with French’s representative Nat Gozzano, who says: “This was a drawing of Jim’s from 1969 and was originally sold as one of a package of six 5″ x 7″ reproductions called Longhorns .”

Entitled Longhorns – Dance, it was also reproduced in the book The Colt Album, published by John S. Barrington in 1973.

It also appeared in issue 7 of French’s magazine Manpower!, which was published in 1974. The late McLaren acquired a copy in New York’s Christopher Street early the following year during his period of association with the New York Dolls.

//Rip Colt photography, late 60s. (c) Colt Studio.//

//Illustrations, Colt 69. (c) Colt Studio.//

//McLaren’s dialogue.//

As can be seen, McLaren didn’t draw the dance-hall sign in the background as he claimed, though he clearly added the dialogue between the two cowpokes to express “the frustration and boredom I felt at the time”.

Gozzano says: “The whole drawing was simply jacked. The illustration was drawn by Jim French well before McLaren and Westwood made a whole bunch of money (and still do apparently) stealing it.”

//Front cover, Hand In Glove, The Smiths, Rough Trade, 1983. Photo: Jim French. Sourced by Morrissey from Margaret Walters 1978 compendium The Male Nude//

This wasn’t the last time French’s work was co-opted without permission by Brits; one of his photographs was used (with credit) on the front cover of The Smith’s 1983 single Hand In Glove.

While the Naked Cowboys artwork was not the act of collage I proposed in my previous post (since  similarity with an image in fetish magazine AtomAge was evidently a coincidence), the depiction of the design as pure rip-off  does not take account of McLaren’s adoption of pretty standard artistic practice in its conception and realisation.

As a result, the illustration became an element – albeit the main one – for a different artwork in different media to create a far bolder and broader statement.

The application of this image from the then-subterranean world of gay art to publicly-worn clothing must be considered not only in the context of SEX and the social and sexual mores of the times, but also in relation to the visual identity of a provocative musical group and youth movement.

Once the Situationism-informed text was juxtaposed with the illustration, its potency was magnified when it appeared, either in stark monochrome or vibrant colourways, on the racks of 430 King’s Road, and then the chests of band members and original punks.

Understandably, French doesn’t see it that way.

“He is decidedly unimpressed with modern cultural movements like punk and doesn’t really see the significance,” says Gozzano, who is responsible for French’s archive. “His work has been far more influential than people realise. The breadth is astonishing.”

Limited edition prints from French’s archive are available here.

* At the time of writing this post I was alerted to French being the source of the illustration by Simon Easton, aka the clothing dealer PunkPistol. Subsequently I learned that Easton had obtained the information from Ted Polhemus, but failed to inform me of that fact. I have no wish to be seen to be associated with Easton or his activities – search his name for the reasons why. Conversely it is important that Polhemus – as a serious academic and author – should be given the due credit.

Thanks to Dominik for the link to The Colt Album.

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Author: / Published: May 11th, 2011 / Category: 430 King's Road, Chelsea, Malcolm McLaren, New York, Punk / Comments: 11

11 Responses to “The Cowboys came from Colt Studio”

  1. Mondo
    on May 12th, 2011
    @ 1:23 pm

    Incredible – another find. What’s next on your 430 mystery list?

  2. Paul Gorman
    on May 12th, 2011
    @ 4:23 pm

    Thanks Dave.
    Working on the Tommy book is bringing forth fabulous nuggets of info from various interviewees, though I’ll probably save most of them for publication.
    There’s a lot more where this came from though.

  3. steve finbow
    on May 17th, 2011
    @ 1:56 pm

    Fantastic… I used to own one of these… my mum used to turn it inside out before she hung it out on the line… I always thought images of Peter Berlin might have had an influence on the design…


  4. SEX (boutique) in KINGS LOAD « HYE IN★★★★☆☆★★★☆☆
    on Jul 12th, 2011
    @ 7:19 am

    […] ^, […]

  5. ‘It is here that McLaren is turning the dream fantasies of the 60s into the death-wish of the 70s’: David May interviews Malcolm McLaren at 430 King’s Road, November 1975 « Paul Gorman is…
    on Aug 13th, 2012
    @ 11:36 am

    […] about the genesis and history of the Naked Cowboys shirt here and writer Len Richmond’s 1975 visit to SEX for Forum magazine […]

  6. » longhorns dance by jim french sissydude
    on Jun 12th, 2013
    @ 5:08 pm

    […] PAUL GORMANIS: A 1969 drawing by the artist Jim French reproduced in a 1974 issue of his magazine Manpower!. […]

    on Sep 3rd, 2013
    @ 7:48 am

    […] Black Merlin turns on his ZTT machine and turns the Hannett / Basement 5 of “Skwatch” into a Frankie Says “Sex Mix”. The Anti-Group Popped by Zeus B. Held and tuned for Boccaccio. The Hardway Bros. keep their recent “Walk The Night” vibe, and cruise “Never There” through red light and noisy games arcades, dressed like Paul Rutherford and accompanied by Jim French Longhorns. […]

  8. Jonathan Ford
    on Nov 13th, 2013
    @ 7:52 pm

    I just read that COLT is rereleasing these prints along with the dozens of other illustrations from their vaults… I want one for my very own!

  9. Paul Gorman
    on Nov 14th, 2013
    @ 8:00 am

    Yes so I gathered – and it’s all down to me tracking down French for this piece. Nick Knight followed up by including some prints in the SHOWStudio punk show and it took off from there.

  10. Jim French: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor exhibition + new Colt apparel collection « Paul Gorman is…
    on Nov 21st, 2013
    @ 10:05 am

    […] Spurred on by my 2011 post which tracked down French as the originator of the drawing, Colt is issuing a new apparel collection which will include Longhorns Dance. I am pleased to note that the company is providing historical background by linking to that post. […]

  11. ‘They had the t-shirt off his back': The 40th anniversary of the creation of the notorious Cowboys t-shirt + the obscenity debate it sparked in the pages of The Guardian « Paul Gorman is…
    on Jul 13th, 2015
    @ 8:20 am

    […] wrote about the roots of the Cowboys design here, showing how McLaren appropriated Jim French’s 1969 illustration was appropriated to make a […]

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