Jeffrey Veregge’s love of comics

 

A lot of folks these days are looking forward to Avengers: Endgame. I know Jeffrey Veregge is one of them. Here’s a clip and an article of Veregge talking about his love of comics, which hasn’t always been easy.   It is a love that has often been mixed up with frustrations over the negative representation of Natives in comics. However, Veregge has recently had a chance to himself rectify some of these misrepresentations.  When Marvel rebooted the Native American character Red Wolf, Veregge was brought on board to steer the character clear of the stereotypes it has been attached to in the past. He devised the character in the style that has become his trademark – incorporating the traditional formline art technique common to his reservation Port Gamble S’klallam in Washington into the overall design. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Veregge is still on view at the Smithsonian with a large superhero- themed mural.  

 

Wendy Red Star at Newark Museum

Wendy Red Star is one of the most exciting contemporary artists at the moment. There was recently a feature article in Vogue about Red Star which is a clear sign that she is hot stuff in the art world right now. Moreover, she has a solo exhibition at Newark Museum. It is an extensive exhibition that covers her production from 2006 to 2019 and includes more than 40 of her works. 

Red Star has tried her hand at many different mediums. Some, such as weaving, she uses because of it’s traditional link to the crafts of her reservation – the Apsáalooke (Crow) in Montana. But it is perhaps her photographic work that has drawn the most attention.  Red Star often uses herself as subject and model in her photographs. 

A recurring theme for Red Star’s art is the politics of identity and memory. 

Many of Red Star’s works utilize strategies and methods found in conceptual art. “My Home is Where my Tipi Sits”, for instance, echoes Bernt and Hilla Becher’s photographic typologies. But a still more significant influence is arguably the “theatrical” trend in 1980s art. The staged quality of Red Star’s work can be traced back to artists such as Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Robert Longo, Richard Prince. 

These artists used strategies of theatricality and artifice to explore the manufactured nature of various identities. As does Red Star. But when she employs similar strategies she needs them to convince more than the artists above. That’s because the figure of the Native American is arguably surrounded by some of the most rigid stereotypes there are. In the series “Four Seasons” (2006) Red Star examines and seeks to undermine the image of “the natural Indian” – a Native American with a privileged bond to nature and to earth. As evidenced by Disney’s Pocahontas, the illustration for the butter Land o’Lakes and countless posters, album covers and posed photographs, there is such a shortage of Native American artists and cultural commentators with a strong voice on the international stage, that these stereotypes are often allowed to continue to shackle Native identity. Many whites hold their stereotypical notions dear and are profoundly invested in the view of the Native American as holder of the secrets to nature. 

As Daniel Larkin explains:

This romantic, and generic, image of the American Indian as spiritually connected to a bucolic earth has inspired many non-Indians to make trips to reservations, visit museum exhibitions, partake in rituals, and read texts associated with the many different indigenous peoples of North America. However, this romantic image can lead outsiders to cherry pick ideas from the diversity of American-Indian spirituality so that they fit into their preconceived, romanticized New Age schemas. 

What is particularly brilliant about Red Star’s photographs is that they look better than they actually are. What I mean is that, at first the images appear to unproblematically play into the hands of those with romanticized notions of Native Americans. What the viewer initially encounters is an adorned Native woman in a beautiful landscape, accompanied by animals. The image is so familiar and normalized that it is understandable if the viewer does not immediately spot the ”tells” that this image is fake, such as the suspicious creases in the landscape – which is actually a poster – behind Red Star. Or the blatant two-dimensionslity of the cardboard animals. Through this perceptual twist, Red Star’s images not only uncovers the artifice of visual clichés but also lay bare the viewer’s willingness to be seduced by them. 

Red Star’s staged photographs remind me a bit of that scene in Night at the Museum where Ben Stiller tries to have a conversation with Sacagawea through thick glass that mutes all sound. Red Star’s tableau’s are similarly characterized by disrupted communication. That Red Star now has a major exhibition in a big museum is fitting considering that museums and cultural institutions have often been major agents in perpetuating skewed ideas about Native Americans.  

Wendy Red Star´s mid career survey is on view at the Newark Museum until June 16, 2019

Neoglyphix presents Wildstyle West

Coinciding with the Indian Fair and Market at Heard museum is another exhibition of Native art, this one with more of a street edge. Called ”Neoglyphix Wildstyle West” it features aerosol art by Rose Simpson, Douglas Miles, Dwayno Insano and Dytch 66, among others. I had to google the last two names and I’m glad I did, because both do some really impressive spraycan art. Below are some images I found. 

Dytch 66
Dytch 66

 

 

Dwayno Insano

 

Dwayno Insano

 

Neoglyphix Wildstyle West will open 2 March at Prime Cut  & Sew Barbershop and Boutique in Mesa, Arizona.

Heard Museum’s Indian Fair and Market

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Heard Museum´s Indian Fair and Market. For two days Heard Museum invites more than 600 Native American artists and artisans to show their work, making it the largest market of it’s kind in Arizona and second largest in the US. There will also be live performances, storytellings and craft-making events.  

This year the Best of Show Award has been raised to 10000 $. Some of the artists taking part in the market adorn our walls here at Kiva Gallery – for instance Randy Kemp, Ira Lujan, Terrence Guardipee, Nocona Burgess, Stella Teller, and Pat Pruitt. The Heard Fair is usually a good time so we are a little sad that we are unable to attend this year. But we’re sending the artists best wishes and a little extra hooray to those represented by Kiva Gallery!

Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market, March 2-3 

Douglas Miles in ”The Mystery of Now”

 

One of Kiva gallery’s favourite artists and all around maverick Douglas Miles is on a roll right now. And yes, that is a pun on his skateboard company Apache skateboards. We’re seeing his skate decks all over the place these days – on the cover of American Indian magazine, at Epcot center, Disney World – as part of its’ first exhibition of Native American culture and history, and in a fantastic short film released earlier this week. The film is called “The Mystery of Now” and was directed by Audrey Buchanan. Besides filmmaking, Buchanan styles herself as an professional interviewer who champions the importance of listening. We have written about the need for white people to listen more here on the blog, so we naturally think Buchanan is an excellent choice for presenting the voice of Douglas Miles. 

The film immediately immerses the viewer in a mood reminiscent of Terrence Malick  – setting slow camera movements around San Carlos to ambient sounds and a calm and thoughtful voice-over. The voice belongs to Douglas Miles and when he kicks the film into motion by urging “let’s do something God – let’s make something”, you know he means it. The entire theme of the film revolves around skateboarding, but you come out of the film with the sensation that you have watched something more profound than a skate video. Skate videos are usually not very emotional but this one is. That’s because Douglas Miles and the kids on his skate team view skateboarding as such a positive force that it almost takes on a spiritual dimension. It’s not just about the tricks – although we do get footage of some radical skate action and Miles’ son Doug Jr. looks like he can rip with the best of them. “We had the bow and arrows, now we have skateboards” says a member of the Apache skate crew named Tasha which sums up the constructive function skateboarding has in the culture of San Carlos. Another member of the team talks about how skateboarding has brought them all together to have feasts like they had in the past. 

“The Mystery of Now” arrives with great timing. In a week that has been medially dominated by videos of a bunch of kids in MAGA hats being complete assholes to a Native American elder at Lincoln Memorial, it’s nice to counter the venom by seeing some kids that can find community around something positive. Too bad “The Mystery of Now” is not likely to get the same viral spread as the MAGA-kids video.     

Oh, and a delightful bonus is that Powell Peralta skate legend Tommy Guerrero makes an appearance in the film.

Jeffrey Veregge’s superheroes at Smithsonian

We wrote about Jeffrey Veregge’s superhero art almost five years ago. We knew then that Veregge was someone to watch and it’s been great to see how he has remained faithful to his favorite subject matter – superheroes – while his style has matured and become both more refined and more complex. He still uses the traditional formline style common to his Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington State to portray famous superhero characters such as Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther among many others. What’s impressive is that the style doesn’t feel forced in this superhero context nor does it stand in the way of the portrayal of the characters. On the contrary, the formline style feels like a natural part of the characters’ visual identity. In some cases, it is utilised to build up the figures in a completely organic manner. Familiar formline motifs can for instance be used to form the hefty pec muscles of Hulk or an ornamental design on Black Panther’s helmet. 

Recently, Veregge was chosen to paint a mural in Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. The exhibition “Veregge: Of Gods and Heroes” is on view until October 13, 2019. According to Smithsonian’s own magazine it “tells a … story about cross-pollinating influences between Indigenous traditions and modern pop culture”. 

To see superheroes in a museum must be regarded as a big triumph of pop culture, but for Veregge the ultimate acclaim came when Robert Downey Jr.  – the actor who plays the lead character in Marvel’s Iron Man movies and The Avengers franchise – had seen Veregge’s art in a gallery and been so impressed that he shared it on his social media channels.  

 

Interview with Daniel McCoy

Long interviews where the artist gets to tell his or her story are always a privilege. Here ’s a new one with Daniel McCoy . It’s a good talk and I highly recommend you give it a read to learn all about McCoy’s fondness for Death Metal typography, cartoons, and food logos. He also talks in earnest about the struggles of the art world  – financial and other –  and the fear of it affecting the art. 

Patrick Dean Hubbell paints with dirt and makes ”almost” portraits

Patrick Dean Hubbell is a relatively young artist but his art feels mature. That’s a pretty cliché way to start an exposé of an artist you actually admire. Might even be a bit belittling. Sorry Patrick Dean Hubbell, I’m not good at intros! What I mean to say is that a lot of thought and consideration seems to have gone into Dean Hubbell’s art. I respect that. Now, to get through this introduction as smoothly as possible, let’s stick to some facts. Patrick Dean Hubbell is Navajo. He graduated art school 2010. He lives and works on the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona. 

Dean Hubbell’s art is not easy to categorize. It is part disciplined geometric control and part total painterly abandon. It feels traditional and new at the same time.    

One gets the feeling that Dean Hubbell is somebody who follows his own path. But sometimes he veers close to others. One of Dean Hubbell’s main inspirations is Jackson Pollock. It was not a connection I had spontaneously made but when I came across a video of Dean Hubbell talking about his admiration for Pollock it made perfect sense. Pollock was, of course, famously inspired by Navajo sand painting, so Dean Hubbell’s admiration of him closes a circle of sorts. But that is only a superficial kinship. The spirit of Pollock can be traced deeper, in the way Dean Hubbell works and thinks about his work. In the same video, which can be seen on the artist’s webpage, we see Dean Hubbell crouched down on the ground, gathering soil from his native, Navajo land. He will use it as pigment for his paintings. Like Pollock, Dean Hubbell lays his canvas flat on the ground and proceeds to rub the processed reddish soil into the canvas. While being largely abstract, Dean Hubbell’s art in this way manages to address questions of belonging and identity in a way that goes beyond representation. There is something profoundly moving in knowing that the artist’s homeland is physically present when the viewer encounters the painting in the gallery. Such indexes of artistic presence can also be experienced in Pollock’s work, which sometimes includes cigarette ashes and footprints and whatever gravity decided fit for it’s pull.   

     

Important though his influence may be, I would say that Dean Hubbell’s affinity to Pollock is only half the story. For where Pollock welcomed chance and accident as part of his creative process, with Dean Hubbell there is often a force to counteract the uncontrolled and chaotic. With an eye for strong patterns and graphic clarity, Dean Hubbell’s painting often juxtapose Pollockian turbulence with geometric repetition. A definite favourite of Dean Hubbell’s is the zigzag, or chevron, pattern. I appears as a leitmotif throughout many of Dean Hubbell’s series of painting.    

Dean Hubbell likes to work in series and he handles the format like a virtuoso. The musical connotation of the latter term is intended in every way because within the context of the series each painting becomes different notes on the same theme, each contributing to the melodic whole. Another analogy is to film. The presentation of the series “Between Here and There” on Dean Hubbell’s website could almost be stills from a short, abstract movie in the tradition of, say, Stan Brahkhage. The series starts out with a strict chevron pattern against differently coloured backgrounds. After a few paintings, the pattern is upset and becomes looser and apparently  more and more haphazard. Eventually the pattern is all but dissolved into a flurry of coarse brushstrokes and abstraction. The pattern appears again, but this time more angrily, almost brutally.   

While each painting is completely spectacular on their own, I cannot stop replaying this series as a sequence in my head, and it is a trip!

Since we have opened the door to film, let us use some of its’ concepts to cast light upon another series. 

The series “Almost a Portrait” consists of obfuscated figures. They can be identified as Native American from their ceremonial clothing and other traditional markers of Native identity. Dean Hubbell states that the paintings are based on traditional portraiture and how those practices were seldom “in the best interest of” Native American peoples. There is indeed something “off” about these images. This impression is further supported by their “bad framing”. The framing makes it appear as if these were pictures taken by accident, as when the shutter goes off in between changing camera position. French film theorists referred to such “badly” composed images as “decadrage” which roughly translates as “deframing”. Some New Wave filmmakers consciously used deframed images as a way to make the spectator aware of the frame and more generally to reflect upon the constructed nature of representation. It functions similarly in “Almost a Portrait”. By literally pushing subjects out of the frame, these images signal that proper representation is not to be found here and that the truth lies elsewhere. "Almost a Portrait"

Patrick Dean Hubbell spent the whole of 2017 travelling around the Navajo Nation to collect earth pigment to use in his painting. Some of these paintings have been on displayed until recently at Peter’s Projects in Santa Fe.     

 

As one of the most exciting contemporary artists, Kiva Gallery can’t wait to see what Patrick Dean Hubbell will do next. Kiva Gallery is also proud to include a number of Patrick Dean Hubbell’s paintings in its collection.

Ryan Singer’s outlines

Like I’ve stated before here on the blog, Ryan Singer’s art is a glorious combination of 1980s era skateboard graphics, rock poster art, and comic books. 

Recently, Singer has taken his pop cultural obsessions to the next level by fusing iconic Star Wars characters with traditional Navajo milieus. In Singer’s paintings, Tuba City becomes Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine and gigantic AT AT walkers can be seen marching through a wintery Shiprock, New Mexico. Somehow, the transformation manages to come off as completely logical. Ryan Singer can make the seemingly incompatible come together in a completely natural way. This is also the case in the paintings I want to put into focus today.  

 

One of Singer’s stylistic trademarks is his use of heavy outlines. Of course, strong outlines are a big part of the low brow/comic book aesthetic that Singer has adopted. But they are rarely associated with scenes of a more solemn and introspective character. That’s why I’ve been very taken with two of Singer’s paintings in Kiva Gallery’s collection. One is of an elderly woman staring out of the frame into the unknown. The fact that the viewer doesn’t see what she’s gazing at has the effect of turning the gaze inward rather than outward. Singer’s traditionally thick line work underscores this experience. There is much emotional content that can be read into the effect of the outline. The outline is so heavy it makes her seem anchored to the landscape. At the same time it closes the figure off and makes her appear isolated from her surroundings. The landscape behind her is simplified so that the woman pops out even more, which makes it impossible for the viewer to ignore her introspection. This is one of those rare paintings that instantly catapults the viewer into pondering the inner life of a figure that came into being solely through paint. Like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the viewer can’t help but wonder “what on earth could she be thinking about”. Yes, I just compared Ryan Singer to Leonardo Da Vinci. The comparison is apt but perhaps not adequate, because in a way the contemplation in front of Singer’s painting is more profound than Mona-Lisa’s. This is after all a Native woman so you know she’s seen some shit in her days. More than the smirk on the face of her more famous art historical relative would suggest.  

Kiva Gallery also has another Ryan Singer painting with an unusually serene mood. It is a deceptively simple scene. But if you allow it, the outline will tell a deeper story about time and stasis, tradition and generational renewal. Again, it’s a painting of a woman in a landscape. In contrast to the woman above, this woman is young. Her activity, however, is old. She is spinning wool. The landscape around her seems to respond to her activity because it curves around the girl almost to envelope her. But there is that thick outline again, tracing the contours of the girl’s body and shielding her off from her surroundings. It is almost as if the landscape is moving more than she is. A strong outline reifies movement rather than capture it. In a way it stops movement and freezes it which makes the experience of superhero comics, which are of course full of movement, deliciously paradoxical. The girl spinning wool seems remarkably still despite being caught mid-motion. From the perspective of her activity, time has stopped moving. The girl probably learned how to spin wool from her mother, and she in turn will teach her daughter. The activity doesn’t belong to her, she belongs to the activity that has existed before her and will continue to exist long after she is gone.  

 

I’m very grateful for these paintings and proud to have them grace the walls of Kiva Gallery. While they are completely representative of Ryan Singer’s painterly style, the quiet subject matter makes at least this viewer more attentive to the function of his artistic techniques and the stories they tell.