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.

#NotYourPrincess

51Z9lApaWSL._AC_US436_QL65_“It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough.”

“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk

The above is a quote from a new anthology titled #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, by Charleyboy and Leatherdale, eds. I’ve only sampled sections from the book so far but it looks like a good and perhaps important read.

The book addresses the prejudices and expectations faced by native women, especially young women. Purposefully eclectic and sprawling, it tries to show the diversity and complexity of native female identity. It does so through form as well as content. Poetry here sits next to scholarly writing, illustrations and graphic design. The whole experience of the book seems to be perfectly in tune with digital identity. The anthology quotes from Twitter and one chapter adopts the layout of Instagram which should please a younger readership who is as much, perhaps more, at ease with social media than conventional books.

I’m definitely putting the book on my “to-read” list and you will probably see more about it here on the blog in the future.

 

How Star Wars has inspired Native American art.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise. What better way to celebrate than to show some examples of how Star Wars has appealed to Native artists.
Besides a notable similarity between traditional Hopi hairstyles and how Princess Leia wears her hair, as illustrated by Nicholas Galanin, Star Wars has little direct relevance to Native culturRyanSinger the new ambassadors, 2015e. But of course Native peoples watch movies too. And the classic tale of good triumphing over evil seem to hold something different for everyone to identify with.

Navajo artist Ryan Singer, represented by Kiva Gallery, relies heavily on pop culture in his painting so it’s a small surprise that he has devoted a series of recent paintings to Star Wars. Singer explained the attraction in a radio interview:

“as I got older I started to, kind of like fusing pop-culture imagery with the Navajo culture. Somehow that Star Wars just, kind of like, manifested in there. And, I always thought of Tatooine as the desert that was close to Tuba City where I grew up, and the Sand People nomadic people real similar to how the Navajos were. So, there were all these similarities I saw in the movies. There really is, like sort of, two different worlds, you know, as far as culture. I try to bring them together and mix them up.”

The imaginary movie posters of Jeffrey Veregge has been featured on the blog before. Veregge depicts familiar Star Wars motifs and characters in the artistic style inherited from his Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.

 

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A few years back, Andy Everson did a series of Star Wars – themed paintings that had a political twist. In Everson’s hands, Star Wars battle of light and dark was referenced in order to address political concerns amongst his own tribe.

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Steven Paul Judd specializes in “impossible” encounters of pop-cultural icons with Native American history. His photoshopped juxtapositions are often strikingly
funny but also remarkable for demonstrating a missed encounter and the exclusion of Native culture from mainstream pop culture.

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Excluded or not, the above artists have all taken something they like and made it their own, even though the original content has no explicit relation to their culture whatsoever. I don’t want to read to much into this, but in a way I find the interest in Star Wars encouraging. It demonstrates a DIY approach to inclusion. Looking at these images I feel  – If I may allow myself to partake in Star Wars geekiness and reference the revised subtitle of the very first Star Wars movie –  A New Hope that Native culture may take a bigger slice of pop culture one day.

Native Art is about to be ”American” at the Metropolitan Museum in New York

Post-colonialism is now a required course for most cultural studies programs. History is no longer taught solely from the perspective of the winners. But museums have been slow to adapt. While ancient Greek and Roman objects are clearly treated as art, many museums have been reticent to view Native American expressions of creativity as artwork rather than anthropological artifacts. Native American art have often been side-lined into special collections and museums, or even housed in Natural History Museums. In many places, the cultural heritage of Native Americans has institutionally been denied the label “art”.

Until now, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has operated under a similar discriminatory curatorial principle. Visitors looking to see Native American art have been disappointed to find it excluded from the museum’s American Wing, which is its rightful geographical context. Instead, one would find it lumped together with other indigenous art from Africa and Oceania. Last week the museum announced that this is about to change. For the first time in its 147-year history, Native American art will share space with recognized American masterpieces by, for instance, John Singer Sargent. The integration was made possible – both materially and conceptually – by a donation from the art collecting couple Charles and Valerie Diker who says “ We always felt that what we were collecting was American art. And we always felt very strongly that it should be shown in that context.”

The collection consists of 91 promised artworks from the Dikers. They will debut at the Met in an exhibition set to open 2018. According to Carrie Rebora Barratt, deputy director for collections and administration, the donation and exhibition “marks a turning point in the narratives presented within the American Wing.”

Nicholas Galanin juxtaposes tradition and the contemporary in unexpected ways.

In lists of the “native-artists-you-should-know” kind, the name Nicholas Galanin features prominently. He is certainly no idler. He makes jewellery, he makes art in a variety of different media and he sings in a band called Silver Jackson. Having multiple functions does not mean he is unfocused. It just means he doesn’t do what’s expected. While attending art school, the teachers expected him to abandon his roots in the traditional imagery of his Alaskan Tlingit tribe to be more contemporary. He didn’t. Instead he put it into dialogue with contemporary times.
The unexpected is also a word that comes to mind when thinking of his art. Like a taxidermied polar bear or wolf suddenly losing its form and becoming a rug midway through.

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In his art, some of Galanin’s key methods are comparison and juxtaposition. And, again, the results are quite often unexpected. As in “Things are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter” (2012) in which Princess Leia from the “Star Wars” movies is juxtaposed with a Native American woman with traditional attire and hairstyle.

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The meeting, or confrontation if you will, of traditional and contemporary can also be experienced in the two-part video Tsu Héidei Shugaxtutaan (2006), in which a Tlingit dancer does his thing to a contemporary soundtrack of wobbly dubstep, and a non-Native break-dancer interprets a Tlingit song. The result is so captivating that anyone questioning the relevance of traditional cultures for contemporary times gets food for thought.

As firm believers in the dialogue between tradition and contemporary, Kiva Gallery sympathizes wholeheartedly with Galanin’s artistic methods. Galanin shows that not only does this dialogue generate exciting visuals but also knowledge and insight.

 

 

Standing Rock and Artistic Protest

 

 

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If nothing else, we can be grateful to President Trump that there is more political art and music now than we have seen in a long time. To realize that art flourishes in times when there is much too protest about you only need to scroll through your daily Instagram feed and look for Trump-related posts. The aspect of his presidency that has perhaps sparked some of the most thematically specific art concerns the pipeline in North Dakota. When Trump reversed Obama’s cancellation of the completion of the pipeline through Sioux territory, art became a central component in the protests against it. Now that the protesters have been evacuated from their camps and work has begun to finish the controversial pipeline, the artistic protests that are still being produced proves that the struggle is far from over.

One of the more effective artistic interventions into the conflict was Cannupa Hanska Luger’s mirrored shields. Using cheap masonite and adhesive mirrors, Hanska Luger crafted shields that were passed out among by the protesters. This, however, was more than an act of rearmament to match the equipment of the police who often carry shields at demonstrations. According to Hanska Luger the reflective surfaces on the shields would reveal to the policing forces the shared la-cmiranda-1482896132-snap-photohumanity “underneath their uniforms—and [make them] realize that they are also on our side” (http://theartnewspaper.com/news/artist-creates-mirrored-shields-for-standing-rock-protesters/). The shields thus function as protection against bodily harm but also as a peaceful deterrent to any kind of violent confrontations.
The shields were also used in a performance that can be seen here:  http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/12/04/hundreds-mirror-shields-used-standing-rock-art/94961662/

Cannupa Hanska Luger explains the role of the artist: “Artists, we live on the periphery. But we are the mirrors. We are the reflective points that break through a barrier.” (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-cannupa-hanska-luger-20170112-story.html)

That is the power of art in times of conflict. It is more than just a polarized opinion that can easily enough be dismissed by those who take the opposite stance. As such, it has the power to break through barriers. Here is some more art that tries to do just that.

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Kenzie Townsend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chris Pappan

CP_applesauceIt is with great delight that Kiva Gallery finds the face of Chris Pappan adorning the cover of the latest issue of Native Peoples Magazine. Pappan is one of the Gallery’s favourite artists and we are proud to have several of his works in our collection. A truly accomplished draftsman, Pappan brings a modern sensibility to the tradition of ledger art. He would rather be called “big city Indian” (he lives in Chicago) than Native American and this progressive stance shines through in his art.

Like many other contemporary artists – for instance Douglas Miles, Ryan Singer and Frank Buffalo Hyde – Pappan’s art engages with what I would call second-order representations. They are, in other words, not primarily trying to convey a “truth” about Native culture but are rather concerned with representations of representations – of movie stars and actors, and how Native culture has been represented by people outside of it. Needless to say, when representation of a culture lies in the hands of people who know nothing about it, the result is often skewed and misguided. Nevertheless, these images have entered the collective consciousness of popular culture, and the task many contemporary Native artists have taken upon themselves is to point to the fallacies of these images.

If we are to believe Michelle H. Raheja, this is far from an easy task. Raheja suggests in her book ”Reservation Reelism” that when the Bildhegemonic culture work its hardest to deny and suppress Native Americans, any evidence of their existence becomes cause for celebration. Hence for a Native American audience starved on images of their culture, the fact of visibility has sometimes overridden concerns about the hurtfulness of distorted representations. This could explain why many Native Americans of the older generation have taken even obviously negative representations and characters such as Tonto to heart. Simply put, it was all they had.

Pappan often relies on stereotypical imagery of Natives. Far from enabling a facile identification with these images, however, Pappan employs aesthetic strategies that make them slip from the viewer’s grasp. Pappan’s drawings often include distortions that disturb the proper reception of them. As Chris Pappan explains: “My images are distorted to reflect the distorted image of Indians in contemporary culture and the way Indians themselves are distorted by images.” When looking at a Pappan drawing, therefore, one gets the feeling that, according to the laws of perspective, it does not cohere. It’s as if a single figure is being viewed from different spatial positions simultaneously.

Bild 19There is art-historical precedence to this technique. Ever since the laws of perspective became an artistic institution, artists have liked to play around with them. The art of turning perspective on its head almost became a genre of painting unto itself and it became known as “anamorphosis”. Leonardo Da Vinci was a avid practitioner. Historically, anamorphic distortion in painting has been used to simultaneously present and disguise a content that some might regard as controversial. It was a way to sneak burlesque and sexual imagery as well as political commentary past a possibly censorious establishment. This was made possible by the way an anamorphic picture has to be viewed from a specific angle to make sense. From a frontal position, an anamorphic picture appears an incomprehensible mess. But viewed from a particular perspective, the content of the image clearly appears.

This historical background to anamorphosis serves Pappan’s purposes of subverting stereotypes well. It’s as if Pappan uses the device of distortion to suggest that beneath stereotypical imagery lies another reality. One that is only attainable by changing ones perspective and outlook on the world.

There is a poetry of instability and elusiveness to Pappan’s images. While rooted in past and possibly damaging representations, his art also suggest that these are not the final word. The image of the Native American is open to revision, and changing it is what a new generation of Native artists have set out to do.

 

Chris Pappan and his art can been seen at SWAIA – Santa Fe Indian Market August 18-24.