July 24, 2010

Defying Expectations with Native art

'Defying Expectations' is much more than 'Indians and horses'

By James ChuteThere are no horses, but there are plenty of American Indians in this show. Nelson-Rodriguez’s paintings picture them as lost souls, abused women, figures full of fear, pain and loneliness. Only the very young children in her works seem to have any sense of peace.

A self-taught artist whose work has a literal, elemental technique similar to outsider art, Nelson-Rodriguez inserts typewritten texts into many of her paintings. In a work like “Fear” (1991), the text can be horrifying in its depiction of brutality, alcoholism and disenfranchisement.

“Tribally, that’s like current affairs,” said Nelson-Rodriquez, a member of the Luiseño tribe, sitting on a plush chair in her living-room-like section of the gallery. “That has to do with our lives now, that doesn’t have to do with what life was like for natives a long time ago.

“It’s like contemporary cultural events that affect all of us. It’s not even cultural, it’s just stuff we’re real familiar with because we have such small communities.”

You won’t soon forget time spent with her extremely personal paintings. “The Gallery” (1994), which shows a woman enveloped by a black ball in an art gallery, has typewritten text inlaid into the painting, “No one understands. I’m dead inside. …”
And:If references to life on the reservation are overt in Nelson-Rodriguez’s work, Lafferty’s are more subtle in his abstract panels.

“For years, I’ve been deliberating how to incorporate my own culture, without incorporating my own culture,” Lafferty said.

He points to links between his own art and the work of the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky and the American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, whose art was influenced by ritual sandpainting.

“I had this idea: What if an Indian took back, reclaimed abstract art?” said Lafferty, a member of the Mesa Grande tribe.
Comment:  Slight correction about Nelson-Rodriguez's heritage: There are several Luiseño tribes, not just one tribe.

For more on the subject, see Native Art Continues from Past to Present and Contemporary Art at Coconino Center.

Below:  "In Catherine Nelson-Rodriguez's The Gallery, she's curled up in a dark ball while everything proceeds as normal around her."

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