As a child, my teacher happened to be my grandpa. The war was ending, my Dad was engaged in that war and my Mom was working for the war effort. Grandpa let me discover lots of “things” - he encouraged me to explore everything natural. We painted, made objects and smaller items like wooden knives, a bow and some arrows. I decorated a shield and a spear. It seemed that he liked everything that I made for him. He didn’t put limits on what I was exploring.
When in grade school, I remember a Japanese exchange artist that worked with our class. He encouraged me to explore color and shapes. During junior high, again, we had another Japanese exchange art teacher. We worked with shapes in clay and firing glazes. That was also a good experience. He focused on bold colors which, of course, were my favorites. I did show him some of the paints made with my grandpa. When in high school, I took classes in architectural drawing and perspective. In the shop and industrial education department I learned wood and metal working. I did excel and it was a plus added into my artist drawer.
Attending the University of Washington gave me chances to enroll in mostly art appreciation survey classes where I explored several areas including graphic design, architectural design, music, designing puppets and puppetry. I graduated with a BS in Biology in Pre-Med, a BA in Education, and a good basis in the arts. I also acquired a pair of Armor 2nd Lieutenant bars. I was then sent to Southeast Asia with its jungles, people and war.
After all that experience, I started teaching and ultimately retired after about 30 years. I then created a design-build custom home building company and continued to develop many more physical and life experiences.
All of this has given me a rich basis for my abstract art. I use bold colors with varied shapes and architectural features. My native culture is represented in many aspects of my work and is often featured in my paintings. It is my hope that the observer is taken into my art and travels through it with some appreciation of what I have to offer.
When I was a youngster, my grandpa introduced me to naturally formed colors which he called “paint”. To me they were just some colored stones, clay and burnt wood. He then took me on a field trip to find some "paint". We found and gathered white clay, really bright red shale and yellow sulphur. We got some burned wood for charcoal black and he mixed ashes, mud and charcoal to make a grey "paint". He helped me grind all the different things into a very fine consistency on a metate - an older model of a mortar and pestle. He rendered some fat and mixed it with our powders to create our final “paint”. We stored each color in small brown glass bottles with white lids and placed them in small deer skin bags.
I remember saying, “Okay grandpa, let’s paint something”. He would say, “Mato, we gotta mix it first”.
By the way, we’re Lakota and nothing ever happens in a hurry with Lakotas. I won’t bore you with all the stories that I’ve learned to get this far.
Gramps got some long pine needles and some pine pitch that we heated, oh so slowly, until finally he declared it was ready. It was smooth, amber in color and smelled like pine tar and turpentine.
I did learn to mix my own paint, got it all over me and everything else in sight. The colors were bold and I learned back then that I truly liked to use bold colors when painting. My project was a stick with stripes, some fur and a couple of feathers. It was a talking stick. The colors were black, red, yellow and white - bold like the four directions or the color of the peoples of our earth with lots of texture to see and feel.
Throughout this journey, my life experiences have helped form the ideas and visions which I apply to canvas and wood. By adding geometric shapes used in architecture and buildings, as well as shapes or forms influenced by nature, culture and spirituality, there’s always enough to work with. If there was a phrase to describe what all this means to me, it would be, “Art isn’t flat, it needs texture”.
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