Painting: The Least Traditional Native American Art Form

When we first considered presenting Native American artifacts as a special collection offered through Dogbotz Boneyard, we weren’t quite sure whether it was wise to include artwork, especially painting. Though Native American painting remains a popular art form about which people have e-mailed us, painting, as it’s understood within the context of European art history, is not a traditional art form for most Native American cultures.

Yes, native painting traditions exist in many tribes, but unlike their European counterparts, paintings were almost always used as decoration for apparel (for example, paintings on leather war shirts) or other functional items (tipi covers come readily to mind). Or, similar to their European cousins at Lascaux and other prehistoric sites, many North American indigenous paintings weren’t portable, such as petrogylphs on a nearby cliff face or other large rock formation. Before European contact, Native American painting was endowed with a variety of ritual and social purposes by diverse cultural groups throughout the continent. That said, perhaps the greatest example is Navajo sandpainting, which was originally created for religious ceremonies or for spiritual healing purposes. Today, some contemporary Navajo artists have designed secular versions of sandpaintings that can be acquired as cultural art.

Many contemporary Native American artists have adapted Western European painting styles to portray the people of their own tribes as well as their tribal experiences and worldviews. Such artists strive to maintain the traditions and culture of their people and reflect the dynamic and sometimes painful changes that they and their respective cultures have endured. Though the techniques of these paintings are not traditionally Native American, the styles, designs, and subject matter reflect the artists’ tribal heritage, and many of them are stunningly beautiful and incisive. Consider Peyote Man or Fire Woman by Sioux artist Kathleeen Kills Thunder, Wisdom of Our Fathers by Navajo painter Fred Cleveland, and Anasazi Parrots by Cochiti artist Joe H. Herrera (see images below).

In addition, contemporary Native American artists cover the gamut of expression in all media, from the acrylics of Fred Cleveland to the digital artwork of French-Ojibwa artist Michael Pierre Price. And, that’s just in the field of painting, for similar diversity exists in the sculptural artwork of Six Nations sculptor Clifton Henry and Navajo ceramicist Tom Vail, Jr.

The challenges currently facing many contemporary Native American painters are the conflicts between the styles of purism and modernism and between paintings created by genuine Native Americans and those works produced by artists inspired by Native American culture. Thus, such questions as, “How much tribal cultural imagery must be maintained within a painting (or any media, for that matter) to be considered by collectors as genuinely Native American.” Or, “Can a painting of any subject matter in any style, regardless of its point of inspiration, be deemed Native American as long as the artist himself/herself is an officially, tribally registered individual?” To date, the debate on these topics continues to be discussed.

The following paintings (and I’ve added a few sculptural pieces) are available for sale through The Tribal Perspective exhibit at the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art:

All the best,

Patrick Price
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC

The Art of Collecting Art

Throughout the years, friends have made such comments as “Wow, Patrick, you’ve collected some really wonderful artwork!” or “Where do you find all these fabulous paintings?” or “You really have an eye for art.” Oddly, I’m not personally convinced that I consciously know the fabulous or the wonderful when I come upon it, and being myopic, I remain uncertain that I have the proverbial eye for art. Nonetheless, family, friends, neighbors, and folks with whom I correspond are curious about my personal taste in art and how that impacts what artwork the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art offers for sale and which artists it promotes.

So, when people ask me how do I “know” which piece of art to buy or which artist to collect (and I do collect artists, often buying several of their pieces at a time), I simply tell them this: “I honor my gut.” What I mean by this is that I listen to and trust my intuition as I look at a painting, drawing, sculpture, or whatever form, and consider the story or the sentiment being shared. For me, it’s usually 50% epiphany (“OMG, this is the piece I’ve been waiting to see!”) and 50% intimate bonding with the artist (“I never expected to be touched in this way.”). If neither the awakening nor the connection is there, then I do not buy the artwork. This is not a judgment for or against any one piece of art or any one artist, as another viewer and potential art collector may experience the epiphany and the bonding in a piece where I haven’t — that’s the wondrousness of human diversity. I’m just conveying that these two elements are the essential criteria that impel me to collect a specific piece of artwork or a set of images created by a specific artist. Also, I don’t strive to buy what’s pretty or worse yet what’s trendy or the worst of all scenarios I need something to fill this space in my living room.

What I do know is that I collect what I like: the unexpected, the subtle, the vibrant, the serene, the traditional, the outlandish, the real and the spiritual. My collector’s palette enjoys the many flavors of art, being just as diverse as the colors on an artist’s palette. I have acquired art that encompasses the gamut of medium, style and theme.

From my perspective, it’s not a choice of Impressionism versus Modernism, the Abstract versus the Real, or Outsider Art versus Traditional Art (as if there ever were such a thing). Nor do I care whether the artist is well established in the art field or is an emerging artist. Nor do I collect art primarily based on its potential investment value, as who’s in and who’s out shifts with the winds of time, though I do genuinely hope that by collecting a certain artist’s work, her/his artwork increases in value so she/he can continue to create art unimpeded by financial concerns.

No, in my view, it’s about the marvel of feeling a connection with someone’s vision or interpretation of life that haunts me, in a profoundly healing way, to the very marrow of my bones.

That’s what I like, that’s what I collect . . . and that’s what influences the selection of art and artists promoted through the Dogbotz Boneyard Gallery of Art. So, wanting to share with you some of the treasures I’ve collected over the years, here are examples of artwork currently up for sale as well as some samples of what’s yet to come.

All the very best,

Patrick Price
Proprietor & Art Collector
Dogbotz Boneyard, LLC