I can't remember when I decided to be an artist. I always knew I would be. The only classes I remember in high school were art and journalism. I did the cartoon for the student newspaper. I left high school two weeks early, leaving a self-addressed, stamped envelope for my diploma and headed for Denver to Colorado Institute of Art, a commercial art school. I had picked up counsel somewhere: "If you are going to be an artist, you've got to eat." I did a two-year course in commercial art.
At the end of the course, I took off to backpack through Europe for three months where I had the opportunity to meet Salvador Dali and Madame Gala. Madame Gala asked me "Where are you from and what are you doing here?" When I told her that I had come from Denver to see the museums of Europe she said: "Go back to Denver, look at one painting, and go walk in the snow.” I took her advice but spent the next 40 years in commercial art and advertising.
I woke up one morning about six years ago and realized that I had not drawn anything other than ad layouts and logos in fifteen years and set out to change that.
At one of my first art shows after making that decision the curator told me that my work looked promising but I needed to focus because “If you do everything, people will remember nothing.” His advice, along with that of Madame Gala, has been the guidelines I have followed since.
I had been selling yearbooks to Indian high schools just before making this turn and decided that's what I wanted to focus on. As I began to study and learn, I realized it was a bigger story the story of indigenous people worldwide who are being displaced by progress. I read somewhere that it's a three-legged stool of environment, social justice, and indigenous peoples. The way people treat the earth is the way they will treat people-as disposable. I kind of wrapped my head around being an artist-activist.
I have a couple of mantras that I apply. One is that "art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." I would like to think my portraits might disturb those who would like to forget and comfort those who remember. The other is "to give a voice to those who have been silenced, to give eyes to those who don't see, and to give a heart to those who just don't want to care.”
I want to be historically accurate, so I research photos in the Library of Congress. I learn with every portrait because I read and study the specific tribe and era. I use a four-color palette of has become the signature look. People recognize and remember it. It gives a suggestion of sepia antiquity while still presents as bright and contemporary.