Paintings: Pocahontas

The first photo shows one of them in progress, while this one is the current state of these paintings. I’m liking them, but have been taking a breather on what to do next. More is going to happen to them, but I’m wanting to make them seem less “busy” somehow. The eye needs a place to rest. And I still need to varnish it and have other things to add. Also not sure what color I want to do the edges. Leaning towards black most likely.

Since the source image is the only picture of Pocahontas done from life, and I see it used a lot, I wanted to give it something more. I feel like this black and white representation just seems so lifeless. And so many other historical or contemporary imaginings of her are romanticized. I don’t claim to know more about her than anyone else, but I think she deserves more than how she is currently normally portrayed. Most Americans know her name, but the facts they think they know about her are incorrect (at least if they learned them from Disney). In a sense, she could easily be considered one of the founding mothers of America. I wonder what she would think of that?

American art postage stamps

This collection of stamps came out in 1997. At the time, I purchased a matted sheet and it currently is hanging in my kitchen. I really like them and they’ve managed to put together a selection of extremely famous and/or important American art from the last four centuries. Of course, there aren’t any Native artists represented here, although two of the images show depictions by white men of Native Americans. That seems to sum up the mainstream American art world’s attitude towards Native art and artists. They are only interesting when viewed through a lens, when seen as an exotic “other.”

But in 2004 the USPS released this set of stamps featuring Native art. Does this even things out? Not so much. I don’t know if the artists of these pieces are known, but there doesn’t seem to be any need to try and present them as if it would matter. Don’t get me wrong, they are both beautiful sets of stamps, and I’m glad that both were produced. I just can see the differing attitude that the dominant society has toward “American” art versus “Native” art.

Drift Station Gallery – mailto:

I’d almost forgotten about this show that I’d sent something in to. It’s closed already, but it was at Drift Station Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska. The photo above is from their site and is an installation view. Below is information about the exhibit:

mailto: [is] an exhibition built around the open portal of an email address. Beginning in early May, works or messages of any kind sent in the body of an email or as an attachment to were printed and hung, up through the end of the opening reception. 652 emails, totaling over 2,500 pages were printed and installed.

mailto: argues for a curatorial practice akin to chaos theory or aleatoric musical composition – that the initiation of a specific but open structure creates unexpected and diverse results.  As the digital files (up until this point infinitely malleable and scalable) reach the printer, they are made manifest as fixed, physical objects; when hung on the gallery wall they each represent a small document in a curatorial process divorced from the geographically-focused perfection of the unique art object.

A rather fascinating way to approach digital work! I did download the (enormous) PDF of submissions and found mine on page 1645. I won’t force anyone to hunt for it though, in case you are interested. I had sent in two black and white pictures of Robohontas that are reproduced below. I kind of like how she looks in black and white…

“Indigenous peoples”

Lately I’ve been reading Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader edited by Jose Barreiro. I’d started it a while back and then picked it up again this past weekend. The book is a collection of Mohawk’s essays over 30 years and is fascinating not only for the depth and breadth of his thought on Native and indigenous issues, but for the historical knowledge as well. One example is the story he tells of the Guanches in the essay, “Indian Nations, the United States, and Citizenship”:

Indigenous peoples is really a term we were forced to invent to distinguish the peoples that occupy a landmass at the time of the European invasion from other peoples, some of whom do not exist at the beginning of that invasion.

The first modern indigenous peoples were the Guanches of the Canary Islands… When the Spanish (with some French assistance) first landed on the Canary Islands in 1402, there was a population of about eighty thousand Guanches. The wars to conquer them lasted until 1496, when their final stronghold fell…

The history of the peoples of the indigenous peoples of the Canary Islands is a very neat package. It has a beginning, a middle, and, for all practical purposes, an end. The Portuguese discovered an uninhabited island they named Madeira because it was covered with forest. They colonized it with some volunteer settlers. Within a short time, they cleared the island by burning it to the ground and a few years later were raising enough sugarcane to become the number one exporter of refined sugar in the world. Money flowed to the Portuguese crown and a very profitable investment called colonization had been born. Before long, it became clear that to make this investment truly profitable there needed to be a source of cheap labor. The cheapest labor at the time was slave labor, and that’s where the Guanches came into the picture.

The Guanches were attacked because they possessed islands that were thought to be potentially profitable possessions and because they were a source of slave labor. The attack on the Guanches was pure theft and slavery. No one, not even the Spanish, bothered to explain it in terms of advancing Christianity or bringing the benefits of civilization to the benighted. In that regard, the history of the Canary Islands is as refreshingly blunt as is the fact that their conquest and annihilation was brutal.

You have to see the world to fix it

I had a long post written and then when I posted it, it was gone. Except for the title. I’ll take that as a sign that I don’t need to say everything I had written, except that I’m aware of changes in how I look at the world and the things that I notice. I have to be able to see the world around me in order to fix it. And whatever role it is that I have in that, I’m ready.

Aside from that, Bryn sent me a line from a Tom Robbins book he is currently reading that I thought was pretty great. (And I’m not a Tom Robbins fan at all.) “The purpose of art is to provide what life does not.” Art is such a difficult thing to really define, and I think that’s the best explanation I have run across so far. Finishing those last four pieces was exhausting. Good, but exhausting. I’ve got something else that surfaced in my mind recently and I’m gathering the things to make it. Or at least to embark on it. In my head I’m calling these things “assemblages” for lack of a better term since they are more mixed-media and three-dimensional than my previous work. But I’m also a little surprised at how they seem more powerful in a sense than my other work. There is a dangerous edge to them that doesn’t exist in my prints and drawings, or even in most of my paintings. Still, it does feel important. I’m following where it leads me.


Bartow’s “Fox Spirit”

No, this isn’t my work. I wish! It is Fox Spirit (2000) by Rick Bartow, one of my favorite artists. I’ve seen conflicting things that Bartow is Yurok and/or Tolowa. Either way, I find much of his work very magical. I’m more familiar with his drawings and prints, but I think this is definitely one of my favorites. Just had to post a picture here because I love this piece so much. I believe it currently resides at the Eiteljorg Museum.