Douglas Miles in ”The Mystery of Now”

 

One of Kiva gallery’s favourite artists and alll 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.     

Mateo Romero and the terrain of paint

We’ve been doing some photography at Kiva Gallery in order to take stock of the gallery’s collection and put together and much needed database of quality images. Going through all the work in the gallery is a great opportunity to fall in love all over again with the art. We are letting the process take its time so we can study the paintings, sculptures and textiles up close. With the help of zoom lenses one can get into details on an almost microscopic level. You discover things that’s not available to the naked eye. Mateo Romero’s paintings have proven particularly rewarding to put through this process.  

Mateo Romero’s recent focus on landscape is such a logical step considering his treatment of paint. That he takes landscape as motif is one thing, but with Romero you always get two paintings in one. Beyond the subject matter there is a dimension of pure paint that demands to be experienced on its own terms. And once you enter this dimension you go through what can only be described as the bliss of pure art. 

Like modernism’s star theorist Clement Greenberg, Mateo Romero knows that painting a good story does not alone a good painting make. Of course, there is plenty of narrative content in a Romero. But there is also another side to Romero, one that sets its sights on abstraction. This is the side that would appeal to Greenberg because it is here that Romero indulges in the modernist imperative to explore what constitutes painting as an art form, i.e. the paint itself, and the power it holds to be a vehicle for emotion.  

One can clearly see the importance Romero imparts to paint in “Girl with a Gun”. Aside from the figurative content, which is the expected source of suspense considering there is a gun involved, tension and drama is here conveyed primarily through paint. Unlike other paintings by Romero, there is a strict, almost dichotomous, protocol to the distribution of paint that tells it’s own wordless story. The totality of the background, or the field that surrounds the figure, is made up entirely of horizontal brushstrokes. This strict painterly scheme is however contrasted sharply by the formless spatter of paint spread across the center of the painting particularly and out toward the edges of the canvas. Control and abandonment here lives side by side and is through paint brought to bear upon the figurative content in a way that gives it added depth. The established tension tells of a threat of violent eruption that seems to belie the cool posture and demeanour of the girl holding the gun. 

“Girl with a Gun” is a particularly dramatic example of Romero’s treatment of paint. There are other examples where paint is allowed to be equally expressive but more joyful and captivating. These kinds of brushstrokes are especially found in Romero’s Dancer series. More on that later. The photography sessions will continue and further excursions into Romero’s wonderful world of paint will be reported here.  

Nicholas Galanin mid-career retrospective at Heard Museum

Kiva Gallery loves Nicholas Galanin and thinks he is one of the most important figures in contemporary art, so we are excited to hear that Heard Museum will host a mid-career retrospective of his work. The exhibition will be titled ”Dear Listener” and run through May 04 to September 03, 2018. To my knowledge it will the biggest solo exhibition of Galanin’s work to date and will encompass more than 10,000 square feet of new and existing works by Galanin including video installation, sculpture, performance art, works on paper, installation work, and fashion.

A few words in remembrance of James Luna and his artistic fearlessness.

The world of performance art suffered a great loss when artist James Luna passed away at the beginning of this month. A resident of the La Jolla reservation, Luna was a highly respected figure of the California Native community. As someone who considers La Jolla and its surroundings somewhat of a second home, I have seen first hand how revered and admired Luna is in those parts. His importance, however, transcends geography and his work has been particularly relevant to recent discussions of cultural misrepresentation and appropriation. With a president who casually refers to his Native American co-workers as “Pocahontas”, the current political climate needs every strong voice of objection and protest it can summon. Luna was indeed one such voice and many of his pieces were conceived to actively disrupt the romanticized commodification of Native culture. In the performance “Take a Picture With a Real Indian”, for instance, Luna targets the gap between the popular image of Indians and Indians as actual human beings.

 

Luna originally staged the performance at Union Station in Washington D.C. in 1991. The performance consisted of Luna taking up a spot and proclaiming to bypassers: “Take a picture with a real Indian. Take a picture here, in Washington, D.C. on this beautiful Monday morning, on this holiday called Columbus Day. America loves to say ‘her Indians.’ America loves to see us dance for them. America likes our arts and crafts. America likes to name cars and trucks after our tribes. Take a picture with a real Indian. Take a picture here today, on this sunny day here in Washington, D.C.”

Being photographed together with strangers who saw him primarily as an object would not surprisingly take a toll on his pride and Luna would end the performance when he felt too upset or humiliated to continue.

 

The video above is from a more recent recreation of the performance but here too the discomfort is clearly visible. This discomfort seem to be shared by performer and participants alike. Sometimes it’s unclear why the people in the audience want to have their picture taken together with Luna. Are they clued into the motives behind the performance or do they respond to the exotic nature of the offer, as if being photographed with an Indian is an opportunity as rare as meeting a lion. Maybe the participants themselves don’t really know. And this confusion and uncertainty is testament to the success of the work. The performance opens a space for the audience to question their own reception of exotic constructs.

Luna was reportedly trained by the mythical Bas Jan Ader who disappeared at sea during the creation of one of his art pieces. Although he didn’t go to quite the same extremes as Ader, Luna did make his own body his primary artistic medium. This made Luna’s work particularly challenging. Other Native artists may have tackled the same subjects as Luna, but the fact that he used his own body lends an confrontational and physical poignancy to topics and themes that might otherwise remain confined to the intellectual realm.

Luna’s physical methods were particularly effective when he located his critique to the institutional practices of museums. In “The Artifact Piece” (performed in 1987 at the San Diego Museum of Man) Luna put his own body on display, laying it down in the museum among other historical objects. Thinking he was a lifeless object of exhibition, some visitors would touch his body and experience a slight shock upon finding it a living and breathing entity. It is one thing to verbally point out the discrepancies between the Native American as historical artifact found in museums and Native American as a living and thriving culture. But to stage this discrepancy through one’s own body is quite another thing and the piece had a huge impact among Native artistic communities.

Personally, I knew James Luna only very superficially. A few years ago James Luna reached out to me with the proposition of collaborating on something in Sweden. Nothing materialized, however, and I sadly regret that the opportunity now has passed. Among many of the artists represented by Kiva Gallery, James Luna is spoken of with the highest admiration and respect. Luna struck a rare balance of fearlessness, humour and sensitivity in his art, and for this his influence will doubtlessly live on.

 

2018 – the year of the Native American blockbuster?

“Now I think more and more people are becoming involved and beginning to make films with their own ideas. We’re just looking for the first big crossover film that is Native American-themed and written and produced and everything.”

-Wes Studi

It’s a new year and a time for looking ahead. So let’s start the new year off on a hopeful note. This interview with actor Wes Studi will put you there. Studi is such a veteran that it is a surprise for me to learn that he didn’t really start acting until in his 40s. His big break came quite fast in the role as The Toughest Pawnee in Dances With Wolves (1990). Since then Studi has put over 90 credits to his name. He’s played a lot of Indians of course but also more non-ethnic specific roles, such as detective Casals alongside Al Pacino in Heat. Studi still yearns to be known as just an actor rather than a Native American actor and dreams about helming a comedy about a grumpy old man. A Native American in a leading role that is not defined primarily in Native American terms would indeed be a game-changer.

And who knows. Having recently watched the amazing Wind River (which I will write more about in a few days) I’m at moment hopeful about the future of Hollywood. The clean-up currently going on in the movie industry can only pave the way for a new Hollywood, one that’s hopefully more diversified and open to all kinds of narratives, not just ones that appeal to old white men.

 

Pendleton has made the perfect accessory for your next visit to the ice planet Hoth

Oh wow! Didn’t know this existed. The textile manufacturing company Pendleton has released a series of Star Wars blankets. Luke Skywalker and fam meet the tribes as familiar Star Wars motifs are set against backgrounds of traditional Native patterns. We’ve written about the popularity of the Star Wars franchise among contemporary Native American artists. My guess is that these blankets are at the top of these artists christmas wish lists.

Pendleton has produced one unique blanket for each movie in the latest trilogy, as well as a couple of others. My favourite blanket is probably the one that accompanies Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which premiered just last week. It has a beautiful red, blue, black and white color scheme and incorporates the Star Wars iconography into the overall Native pattern.

 

Sadly, Kiva Gallery doesn’t stock Pendleton Star Wars blankets just yet, but we do have several other Pendleton blankets for sale. Swedish winter may not be as gruelling as on Hoth, but almost. A Pendleton blanket is the perfect christmas gift, it will keep you warm and cozy all through winter.