Color shapes our daily lives because the colors that surround us can influence and even inspire us. We respond to color when we choose something to wear in the morning, when we see traffic lights or go shopping at the grocery store. Since time immemorial, color has influenced humans historically, socially and artistically, as color has been an integral part of the natural world. Throughout time, humans have manipulated color for social, spiritual, emotional and artistic purposes.
Celebrating color is what the latest featured exhibit on display at The Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve, Vibrant Beauty: Colors of our Collection, is all about. Additionally, the exhibit honors our local Tulalip tribal artists.
At the heart of the exhibit is a large panel display with several unique and vibrant designs created by Tulalip artist Ty Juvinel. After being approached by Hibulb curators and asked to add his inventive touch to the latest exhibit, Ty spent a series of afternoons working on and finalizing his vibrant beauty addition.
“Color is emotion, and the color I choose for my art depends on the emotion of the piece,” states Ty. “I like to use bright colors in my work because it makes a statement. I use all colors because nature uses all of the colors. Some have more significance like red, black and white, which have greater significance to us. Color to me is emotionally dependent on how I am feeling. I’m feeling drawn to yellow right now because I want it to be spring. Last week, I felt drawn to the color purple.”
Using modern day technology to advance his art methods, Ty printed his tribal designs on transfers that were then paint masked to the panel walls. This method saves an enormous amount of time compared to a traditional method of stenciling and painting by hand. Using this refined technique also allows Ty to color his designs with spray paint. After choosing his selection of color, he went to work on spraying the transfers, then meticulously peeling the transfers off the panel.
Lastly, Ty goes over each design in a detail enhancement process, so that the quality of his artwork is up to par by his standards. As Ty explains, each of his designs are inherently Tulalip because he is Tulalip, but there is some real creativeness to his ingenuity. For example, he created a Tulalip family tree design, which he fittingly colored green. The tree contains eight spirits with each one representing the spirit of a generation.
“I’m always looking for new ways to push myself as an artist and being open to try new methods and techniques, but at the same time I’m always looking for ways to put our culture out there in a good way,” continues Ty. “People come in here to Hibulb and there’s a pride in seeing our culture displayed as Tulalip or Coast Salish people. My goal is to create something that I’m proud of, so the community is proud of it, too, because all the work I do represents Tulalip.”
Check out Ty’s contribution to Vibrant Beauty: Colors of our Collection on display at Hibulb through February 2017.
Well-known Native artist, Toma Villa, traveled to Tulalip and spent July 13 and 14 working with more than 80 summer youth workers on creating mural projects inside the Kenny Moses Building. Toma, who is a registered member of the Yakima Nation, has spent the last few years traveling to various reservations and inspiring Native youth to find their inner artist.
Toma uses Native American themes in the murals he paints. To date he has created 18 large-scale murals in four years that are “all up and down the Columbia River,” he says.
“In my mural workshops the youth work together to visualize their voices as paintings,” says Toma. “The best part of the workshops is watching the creative process play out and seeing how everyone interacts to take ownership over what they are creating. A big part of it is I like to tell them that you are people of the community, this is your home, and so it’s up to you to decide what goes up in your community. With these murals, it’s them putting out their ideas and their culture.”
The two-day crash-course painting workshop was the largest Toma has ever done. Usually he works with 10-15 youth at a time, but he was up to the challenge of working with the large group of 80 summer youth workers Tulalip had in store.
“It took a lot of work building and priming the walls to have enough space for 80 people to work with, but it was definitely worth the time and effort,” continues Toma. “So much good can come from the creating process and when you have young people working together amazing things can happen.”
Among the group of 80 were artists of all skill levels. With Toma helping with inspiration and guidance, every one of the youth were able to find their inner artist. There were teams of youth working on larger murals, while some preferred to showcase their solo talents with their stroke of the paintbrush.
The finished murals are in the process of being hung up around the Tulalip Youth Center for all to see.
“Absolutely amazing artwork took place with the Summer Youth program during their two days in the Kenny Moses Building working alongside Toma Villa. I loved seeing our youth so engaged and involved,” stated Theresa Sheldon, Board of Director, on Facebook. “If you have a youth in the Summer Youth program, you should be so proud of the amazing artwork they have created. Please give them a big hug and thank them for being so awesome! The Youth Services staff has been going above and beyond for them this summer. Next step is to put these master pieces up around our Youth Center. t’igʷicid to all who made this happen.”
Meet Jennifer Tracy, an up-and-coming artist from Tulalip, trying to break into the mainstream and leave that whole working nine to five thing behind her.
During a leave from work due to health reasons, Tracy decided to reconnect with her culture through painting, and her new career was launched.
A self-taught artist, Tracy’s Native background and good business sense help to keep her small business growing while she formulates her unique, artistic style.
Jennifer’s mother is Sandy Tracy, and her grandparents are the late B. Adam and Marge Williams, all Tulalip Tribal members.
Tell us about your introduction into the world of art?
I have always had an interest in learning about the world we live in. I found, for me, seeing the world not only by my personal experience, but also by learning about people through their culture helped me to see the beauty in all things. One of the best things about growing up in Tulalip, I was able to live in a unique cultural area. I was able to attend pow wows, salmon ceremonies, and I got to dance in the Johnny Moses Dance Club to name a few things. As a child I would listen to stories passed down by our elders, which taught me a bit about the life of our ancestors, our connection to spirit and nature.
What is the primary medium in your art?
I primarily paint with acrylics, but I am incorporating other mediums as well, such as oil paint, watercolor, and spray-paint. I paint on canvases, wood rounds, paddles, drums, ornaments and cloth. I basically am open to trying new things as often as opportunity allows. I also taught myself to bead, which is a lot of fun.
What is your creative process like?
I do a lot of “research” throughout the year. I visit every museum, gallery and art show that I can find. I get inspired by different types of art, seeing what is being done in other genres. I get a lot of input from people as well, as far as what it is they like, what they would like to see, things they think would make great pictures. As I begin, I have an animal or two to concentrate on, I picture in my head what I would like it to look like, and then I do some sketches. When it feels complete I begin the process of picking a color scheme and then paint.
Creative blocks can be an artist’s nightmare. Have you had them and how do you get the creative juices flowing again?
Oh yes I do get creative blocks from time to time. There have been times when I cannot think of a thing, or a design just doesn’t feel like it will ever be done, when this happens I get out in nature, clear my head, or get some exercise. Remind myself that it can be finished; it will look right when I am done. I really try not to let my own thinking get in my way.
What prompted you to leave your career and strike out as an independent artist?
After high school I had the opportunity to work for the casino, which was basically where I stayed for the next 18 years. During this time I slowly felt more and more disconnected from my culture. With working the weekends, odd hours, and overtime I had very little time or energy for other things. In 2008 I had a surgery, which I had to take a couple weeks off work for. During this time I decided to reconnect in my own way to my culture. I focused on painting native design, and it was not easy at first. I have never taken an art class so when people ask about techniques and specifics about how I come up with my drawings it is a little difficult to answer. I see a design in my head and go from there. I keep a pencil and a ruler on my work table for sketching my designs. My style tends to be a mix of traditional and modern design.
I began selling my artwork in 2009 to family and friends. Then I began to sell at the Annual Christmas Bazaar and local pow wows where I was able to really get my work out and get feedback from more and more people. I left my job in September 2014 to become a full time artist. Super scary to take the leap of faith that I could really do this. My money went faster than I had hoped but I really felt a calling that this was what I was meant to do. Spiritually this has helped me grow and I get to express a part of my culture to others.
Being a full time artist is not easy work by any means, but in a way this pushes me to work harder. Money is still inconsistent but I have my work in a few gift shops, including the Hibulb museum here at Tulalip, Highway 2 Collectibles and Imports in Sultan, and Moonfrye Metaphysical in California. I still am a vendor at pow wows and bazaars, I started a web page on Shopify and on Photoshelter, and I do special requests for friends when I have the chance. I also offer items for sale on Facebook , on my personal page and on my Art Z Aspects page. I have some designs on display on an online gallery, Touch Talent, which has a large following worldwide. My Orca design was featured as the Editors Pick in January. Right now I am really working on becoming established as an artist. Once established, I would like to work towards owning a gallery.
How do you come up with a profitable pricing structure for your art?
For pricing on my prints I got help from an art consultant I had met. She gave me some real good advice about pricing, some info on local events, and wholesale pricing for businesses.
On my canvases, I had to figure in total cost to me and time spent. Then researched other Native artists and their pricing, originals versus series, different syles, ect. I decided I would keep my work on the low side of pricing because I would rather get more of my work out to people as opposed to waiting for a sale once in awhile.
For online sales the hard part is figuring out the cost of shipping.
What’s the coolest art tip you’ve received?
A few years ago at a gallery event I met this artist from China; his work was great. Before I left I got to talk with him and showed him some of my work. He told me if I wanted to be a professional artist, do it. Draw or paint something everyday. It does not matter what you draw or how much, just do some art everyday. If you only draw once in awhile you have to retrain yourself to do what you already knew in the first place.
Tracy’s artwork can also be found in prints and housewares, like coffee mugs. View Tracy’s art at the following websites:
Saykred Thoughtz is a product of Derek Prather. Derek Prather is a product of Tulalip. Therefore it isn’t so much a matter of simple logic, but homegrown necessity when Saykred emphatically states, “I do it for the rez!” on the chorus of his most popular YouTube music video The Rez.
Prather, who’s music stage name is Saykred Thoughtz, is a twenty-four year old American hip hop artist born and raised within the boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation. He is an enrolled tribal member, while also being a member of the hip hop group Native Instinct with his cousins Komplex Kai (Kisar Jones-Fryberg) and Hapalo (Chuckie Jones). Most importantly, he is a proud father of four beautiful children, Tessa, Kaden, Maia and recent addition Alissa Mae. “I love my kids more than anything in the world. They are my inspiration to do better at everything,” says Prather.
It is often the case that those who grow up on Native American reservations are exposed to much of what the outside world only experiences indirectly, through mediums like television or literature. For Prather it started when he was born submerged in poverty and the beda?chelh system, continuing into his teenage years when he was ditching school and committing juvenile crimes, and peaking when he found himself as a father dealing with domestic disputes in a co-destructive relationship, all the while battling the nightmare that is addiction.
The seemingly never-ending cycle of self-destructive behaviors came to an abrupt halt when he “hit rock bottom”, as Prather describes it like only a hip hop poet can, “when this life makes you mad enough to kill, when you want something bad enough to steal, when you feel like you had it up to here cause you mad enough to scream, but you sad enough to tear…that’s rock bottom.”
Prather hit rock bottom three years ago when being on the losing side of his battle with addiction, self-medicating with prescription medication and alcohol, ultimately led to him having his children taken from his custody. It was at that moment that Prather made the choice to better his life, both for himself and his children, once and for all. He voluntarily went to treatment at Valley General to get clean and has remained clean for nearly three years now. He came out of treatment with a renewed sense of purpose as a man and father. Prather got his job back in Tulalip Construction Housing as a laborer, got a house and car, everything your supposed to have as the man of a household. It didn’t take long for him to have his custody case dropped and be reunited with his children.
“Battling my demon of addiction was the hardest thing that I’ve had to do. You go through struggles emotionally when learning how to be a man in life and taking care of your own,” says Prather. “For me, my kids are everything. They were my reason to get clean. Being a father to them every day, seeing their smiling faces every day is what keeps me going. They are my inspiration and motivation to be the best father and man that I can be.”
The renewed sense of purpose that came from getting clean was compounded when he regained custody of children. Prather realized his dream of being clean and having his kids back had come true. If he could overcome such trying tribulations as those then he could do anything he put his mind to. Prather chose to go all in on the dream of becoming a successful music artist.
“I realized music had always been there. During my highest of highs and my lowest of lows, music was always with me. Since I was a little kid I’ve always been intrigued by music. I started in guitar lessons and piano lessons as a kid and from that point I learned to love and appreciate music in all its forms,” Prather says while reminiscing about how he fell in love with music as an art form. “It evolved from there. In sixth grade I was playing the drums and just trying to be in some kind of music. Then when I was thirteen, my older cousin Komplex Kai created his first rap album. I was able to witness that whole process from beginning to end. That intrigued me to start writing and soon after I started going to Kai’s studio and never stopped.
“Every life experience inspires an artist. Everything that you go through that pisses you off or makes you happy or turns you around is supposed to make an artist think differently about his music. Everything that happened to me and that I went through, afterwards I chose to go home and write about it. My music tells my story. If you were to go back and listen to all my music from when I first began to now, it would be like listening to an audio book of all the stages of my life. From my dad going in and out of prison, to my mom doing stupid stuff, and me being taken away from my parents and getting arrested about something dumb. I would write about all that until I learned how to turn those words on paper into musical inspiration. I made it relatable, so that someone going through those same experience can hear my music and know I’m real, that I actually went through the same things they are.”
In 2013, Prather started working on his first professionally produced and mastered hip hop album, titled Turnin Pagez that will be released Friday, May 1. He invested in himself, spending every spare dollar he had on studio time at Dark Room Productions, a local independent studio in Everett. Paying between $50-$100/hour to make music at the highest possible quality is what separates the professional from the amateur.
“It’s easy for people to make music from their house, but it shows how serious you are as an artist when you’re willing to pay for studio time and leasing rights,” Prather explains. “As an artist, it’s exciting to say that I have leasing rights to everything on my upcoming album. That’s a hard thing to achieve for independents. Because I’m not signed to a label that makes me an independent artist, so I’ve learned how to independently market my music and myself. Showing people how serious I am as an artist paves the way and opens doors.”
The upcoming release of the album Turnin Pagez has multiple meanings for Prather. First, it shows what is possible with a dollar and dream. Second, this project has been two years in the making, it’s been so much of an investment, financially and emotionally, and most importantly it demonstrates the personal growth that Prather has gone through.
“There’s a lot of truth to this album, a lot of things that I’ve went through personally and saw firsthand coming up,” explains Prather. “There’s a song on there about the way a person that’s battling addiction thinks of the world and sees the world. How that person thinks about people seeing them at their worst, how people think about them. Basically, it’s putting myself in a perspective of a person that’s at rock bottom and has nothing. I’ve been there, I know what rock bottom looks like, but I’ve also made it through.
“This album is special. I tried my hardest to push myself out of my comfort zone to make every different kind of music that I can create in order to broaden my audience. Any person who likes hip hop just a little bit will find a few tracks they’ll really enjoy. It has a song for everyone basically. There’s a lot of culture in it, too. Anyone from Tulalip, anyone from Indian country who has grown up on a reservation will be able to relate to this album.”
Turnin Pagez is a collection of Prather’s thoughts obsessively turned over and milled into substance, and that is its strongest point. He captures the struggle of addiction so concisely. A former product of that, Prather delivers an album that pushes aside all his many past battles. The psycho-analysis is public, it’s honest and it’s executed through the best writing and rapping of his career.
“I called the album Turnin Pagez because I have filled so many notebooks with lyrics, rhymes, and my thoughts. When I flip through those notebooks I’ve realized it’s symbolic. This album, for me, means I’m turning a different direction in life. I’m turning to a new chapter in life. From the things I talk about in this album, like my battle with addiction and domestic issues that I went through in the past four years, I’m turning the page and moving on to a healthy and brighter future for me and my kids. This album symbolizes that.”
Regardless of where his career in the hip hop industry takes him, Prather has enjoyed the journey and looks forward to what the future has to offer. Even though he has lofty expectations for himself as a hip hop artist, Prather says he owes everything to his cousins, Komplex Kai and Hapalo, and the Tulalip community for bringing him up in the hip hop game. “They are what got me to where I am at today with my music. Our studio was at aunt Uppy’s house. It was like our crew studio; every day and every night we were there making music. It was cool though man, it was a good environment to grow up in with our music.
“I’ve come a long way since those early days of aunt Uppy’s music sessions. The basics of the hip hop business is shaking hands and meeting people and showing people that you are serious about your craft. I was determined to show everyone how serious I was. I was fortunate to land D-Sane, who ended up mastering my album. He mastered a lot of music for Macklemore, so that’s a really big deal for me to have someone on his level be a part of my album. Plus, he got me a Crooked-I feature on my album. He’s a huge West Cost hip hop artist and to have him on my album is so amazing.”
His battle to overcome life’s trials, however righteous, has now translated musically. Fans of Prather’s music will be able to identify with his wounds, hurts and unpleasantries. From a personal vacation from stress, to the remorseful father who once lost his children, to past beefs with his girl, Prather unleashes his truth with no filter. While this is an exciting, polished album, Turnin Pagez accompanying music marks Prather’s independent arrival. He has released a candid and thought provoking piece of work. It’s something that many will find refreshing.
Prather’s album, or more accurately Saykred Thoughtz album Turnin Pagez comes out Friday, May 1. To commemorate his achievement there will be an album release concert held at Tony Vs Garage on Hewitt Ave in Everett on May 1. Doors open at 9:00 p.m. and admission is free, with a $5 voluntary donation being accepted to support the artists. Local fans will see Tulalip rappers Komplex Kai and Hapalo open the show before Prather performs the entire Turnin Pagez album.
Hard copies of the Turnin Pagez will be available for only $10 beginning May 1 at Priest Point Grocery (aka Chris’s Store) in Tulalip. For the digitally inclined, the Turnin Pagez album will be online at the iTunes store, Amazon, CD Baby, and SoundCloud websites the following week.
You can sample some of Saykred Thoughtz music on youtube:
Canadian-born Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie is a living legend, famous for such Indigenous anthems as “Universal Soldier” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” But few know that Sainte-Marie led the earliest charge into electronic music at the same time she was being celebrated worldwide as a “folk” artist. She’s now preparing to make her first album since the award-winning 2008 relase Running For the Drum. Speaking from her current home in Hawaii, Sainte-Marie gave ICTMN the lowdown on the directon she’ll be heading with her new music. This is the second of a three-part series; for the first, which focused on her thoughts about the environment, see Buffy Sainte-Marie on Tar Sands: “You’ve Got to Take This Seriously”.Do you know when your new album is due to come out? Is there a title?We haven’t decided. I just spent three weeks out on the road in Nashville, Toronto and L.A. auditioning producers, so I have not yet made my choices. I don’t know if I’ll work with several producers or just one. But I’m sure excited about the music. We’re choosing from about 30 different songs. It’s going to be fun. It’ll be done when it’s done!
Your last album, of course, got a Juno as well as an Aboriginal People’s Choice Award (and around that time you were inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame) — in many ways, it was a departure from your other work in the immediacy of it.You think so? The songs, as always, were very diverse. I wasn’t worried about trying to make them all the same. Some of those songs I had in the can for a long time, and some were things I’d written over the years. I’d take something I’d written in my notebook in 1970 and I’ll add a second verse in 1980 and I’ll finish it last week. That’s always how it is for me – I have a kind of helicopter vision of life itself. I don’t think about calendars, deadlines or styles. I just play and sing whatever I dream up. Writing for me is just really, really natural. It’s the same as it was when I was a little kid. I hope I’m getting better though!
There’s an immediacy to your sound that really speaks to today. But you’ve always had that along the way. A lot of people were a little bit surprised hearing me with electronic sounds, but that’s because they maybe hadn’t heard about me for a while – so it might have been new to them, but it wasn’t new to me. In 1965, I made the first-ever electronic quadraphonic (four-channel) vocal album, Illuminations.
Is there anything about your new album people should look out for, in terms of style or subjects you’re addressing? Any surprises? It depends. Most people don’t listen to me, so they’re always surprised! (Laughs) Especially if they think I’m a folk singer. But people who have been listening all along will be surprised, because the whole world continues to grow. And that includes me and you. So it will be different. “The Uranium War” is one song, another is “Look at the Facts,” “Your Link with Life” is another. There’ll be some remixes… It’s a really interesting album. There’s some love songs on it, and some Aboriginal things, but mostly it’s just solid songs that are good to dance to or fun to listen to, or whatever.
One of your most famous songs, ‘Up Where We Belong,’ has really been turned into a love anthem. But it has such a special meaning for many Indigenous people, who can read it in a completely different way from non-Indigenous people. What are your thoughts on that? It’s a beautiful love song, but from the perspective of history suddenly it gives you a chill down your spine. I’m glad that it got to be the main theme for the film An Officer and a Gentleman, that’s about the military. Because sometimes people are surprised to see how many veterans come to my concerts, and to find out that soldiers in Vietnam were carving “Universal Soldier” into their bunk beds. If you think pacifists and military people hate each other, it’s not true. That’s just not accurate at all. The fact that “Up Where We Belong” – a love song that does have a real double-entendre meaning – was heard by so many people who don’t ordinarily come to hear me — how good is that? We always have to remain open to the fact that audiences are going to interpret your songs personally for themselves. I think that’s the true power of songs. It’s wonderful… Music has always been a powerful medium, and now with the Internet it can reach so many more people.
Computers, scanners and other bits of high tech play a part in what is produced at the studio of famed Tulalip Tribes artist James Madison.
At the heart of his carvings, paintings, glass and metal sculptures, however, is what Madison learned as a boy sitting at his grandfather’s kitchen table — the way to hold an adze, respect for Coast Salish and Tlingit cultural traditions, a good work ethic and an appreciation for beauty.
“Everything my grandpa knew, he taught me and my cousin, Steven. He was grooming us to carry on,” said Madison, now 40. “He taught us the stories and their messages, and how to carve. It was like learning to walk. It was just something that happened naturally.”
Madison’s artwork is displayed locally and throughout the state and country. It even has been featured on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Named Snohomish County’s 2013 Artist of the Year by the Schack Arts Center, Madison is busy this week putting up a show at the Russell Day Gallery at Everett Community College.
“Generations 2,” which includes work by Madison, his grandfather, father, uncle, cousin and young sons, opens Feb. 10, with a reception set for 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at the college gallery. It will be exhibited through March 14. A previous show, “Generations,” also included artwork by family members.
“The show pays respect to the people who taught me and gave me the tools I use today,” Madison said.
Madison’s sculptural work can be seen on Colby Avenue in downtown Everett, on the community college campus, on the Tulalip reservation and in the form of a bronze husky in front of the University of Washington football stadium.
“That sculpture was important to me because football has always been a part of my life, too,” he said.
One of Madison’s major works is the 24-foot story pole in the hotel lobby at the Tulalip Resort and Casino. His sculptures also can be seen at the Hibulb Cultural Center, in Cabela’s at the Tulalip shopping mall, at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo, Kayak Point County Park, Providence hospital, the Burke Museum and in the cities of Stanwood, Marysville, Shoreline, Whistler and New York.
Along with learning traditional arts, Madison was still a child when his father was attending art school and learning about abstract painting.
“Dad gave me the fine arts side,” Madison said. “It gave me the means to take what I do and give it a modern twist.”
After graduating from Everett High School and Everett Community College, Madison earned a degree in fine arts from the University of Washington.
“I am in a position now to publicly express our history to non-Indians, so they can know who we are,” Madison said. “I am trying to do my best to keep our culture alive. I bring my sons with me as much as I can, so they can learn in the same manner I did.”
Among other things, Madison currently is working on another story pole. It is being carved from the same 998-year-old, 135-foot cedar log — a blow-down from the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest — that was used for the story pole at the Tulalip Resort.
Looking around his warehouse-sized studio, Madison said sometimes his success feels “surreal.”
“This is a dream come true for all of us,” he said, motioning to friends and relatives working nearby.
“Being named artist of the year last February, at age 39, made me proud of all of our hard work. It was an accolade that gave me satisfaction and made me feel that it is possible to do anything.
“I push myself because that is how I was raised. And the more I do, the more I can acknowledge my people and my family.”
“Generations 2” also will include the work of the late Frank Madison Sr., Steve Madison, Frank Madison, Steven Madison and James Madison’s sons, Jayden, 8, and Jevin, 6.
The Russell Day Gallery, 2000 Tower St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Statues, paintings and other artwork by the late Chiricahua Apache artist Allan Houser will be on display across the state this year to honor the 100th year of his birth, including five monumental-sized sculptures that are being installed at the state Capitol this week.
Installation of the five bronze statues will begin Wednesday at the Capitol’s east entrance, where two large sculptures entitled “Morning Prayer” and “Singing Heart” will be erected. Two more will be installed at the west entrance, along with a fifth piece that will be placed on the north plaza. All five will be on display through December.
Additional Houser exhibits are planned throughout 2014 in Duncan, Norman, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Tulsa.
Houser, who died in 1994, was a renowned Native American artist and among the most influential of the 20th century. Oklahoma’s license plate depicts Houser’s “Sacred Rain Arrow” and his sculptures greet visitors to the Oklahoma Capitol, the University of Oklahoma in Norman and the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa.
Born to Apache parents who were brought to Fort Sill as prisoners of war, Houser, born Allan Haozous, was symbolic of the first generation of American Indians forced to make a transition into the white culture, said Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“He changed Indian art in America,” Blackburn said. “He’s the pivot point from advocating Indian art as a way to make a living to an expression of their own imagination and observations.
“He really gives many Indian artists their ability to express themselves in their own individual way.”
Houser’s nephew, Jeff Haozous, the chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, said his uncle was a talented and productive artist who also spent decades teaching art to younger generations of artists.
“He’s an inspiration based on what he was able to achieve,” Haozous said. “As a nephew and a tribal member, it’s something I’m really proud to see his art getting such recognition.”
Haozous said 2014 is significant for the tribe because it marks the centennial of the tribe’s freedom following the imprisonment of its members, who were among the last to engage in battles with the U.S. Army.
“They had been living on Fort Sill as POWs, and now they were free Apaches,” Haozous said. “That is of huge significance to us, and as a tribal leader, that is the most significant thing to happen this year.”
Allan Houser: Oklahoma perspective: www.okhouser.org
Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2014/01/13/2928685/houser-sculptures-to-be-installed.html#storylink=cpy
Canadian trip-hop and soul singer IsKwé has released her self-titled debut album, and not a moment too soon. The GridTO says of the Cree/Dene artist, “Just as she can move easily from whisper to roar, IsKwé bridges acoustic and electronic worlds to perform a dynamic, beat-heavy soul that references jazz, pop, and hip-hop alike.” Her long-awaited disc is available on iTunes; she took a few moments to discuss the journey and the result with ICTMN:
Where are you coming from, musically speaking?
I’ve spent a lot of time working my way through different musical genres since I was a little kid, building away at my appreciation for all things different. I have a strong affinity for artists like Bjork, Erykah Badu, Kinnie Starr, and Portishead — all strong female artists who are constantly trying new sounds. So inspirational!
How long did you work on this album, and who did you work with?
This record took me about eight years to complete, and was recorded in three cities, in two countries. New York, LA and Toronto have each been important stomping grounds for me throughout this project and each plays a special part in its creation!
If you were to play just a few of the album’s tracks for a listener who’s never heard you, which would they be?
“Another Love Song,” because it’s the first song I’ve written and co-produced. It came from my heart this one, and is a very solid reflection of where I plan on taking my music on the next album. “Slack Jaw,” because I think its a badass tune (it’s the one song I didn’t write on the album!). And “One Better,” because of the message behind the lyrics. I wrote it for someone special to me.
You’ve just had your album release party in Toronto — how did it go?
Oh man, it was fantastic! What a feeling, having your first release party ever! And all the people who are dear to my heart joined me, either in person or in spirit.
How is your latest music is being received? Have you gotten any critical notice or comments from fans you’ve liked?
As far as I can tell, folks are loving it — I think the eight-year anticipation might have helped a bit too! I guess that potentially could have worked against me though. But yes, CBC has listed me as 10 Canadian Musicians you need to know — which is massive — and The Grid TO has also listed me as One to Watch twice now!
What’s next for you — will you be hitting the road?
I am! I actually heading to the Banff Centre of the Arts to write and record a follow-up EP right away, then touring in early 2014. It’s been a busy road, that’s for sure!
CHICAGO – Combined with his own artwork and artifacts from The Field Museum’s collections, hand-selected by Native artist Bunky Echo-Hawk, The Field Museum’s latest exhibition, “Bunky Echo-Hawk: Modern Warrior,” opens on Friday, September 27.
Native Artist Bunky Echo-Hawk heads to Chicago
Echo-Hawk is a member of the Pawnee and Yakama Nation. He and curator Alaka Wali personally selected the Pawnee objects from The Field Museum collections as well as several Yakama and Arapaho objects.
A graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, he is a painter, graphic designer, photographer and writer. He is also is a traditional singer and dancer.
Throughout his career, Echo-Hawk has merged traditional values with his lifestyle and art. He has exhibited his work in major exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally in New York City, Chicago, Denver, Santa Fe, and Frankfurt, Germany, among many others.
Highlights of this exhibition include a vibrant portrait of Yoda sporting Native American headdress, basketball sneakers Echo-Hawk designed for Nike, a 100 year old historic Pawnee drum, and skateboards designed by Bunky. The exhibition also includes a Field Museum produced video about Echo-Hawk’s “live art” process.
The exhibition will feature historic objects from The Field Museum’s collections alongside Echo-Hawk’s artwork. Echo-Hawk’s spirited and witty presentation gives visitors a look into The Field Museum’s historic clothing, weaponry and musical instruments from the Pawnee nation. “Bunky Echo-Hawk: Modern Warrior” is a part of the ongoing “Straight from The Field” series of exhibitions.
The exhibition is organized by The Field Museum and co-curator Bunky Echo-Hawk.
This project is made possible by a grant from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services.
WHAT: “Bunky Echo-Hawk: Modern Warrior” Exhibition Opening
Friday, September 27
The Field Museum
1400 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605
How Buster Simpson Turned His Righteous Anger About Development, the Environment, and Seattle’s Economic Disparity into Art
Jen Graves, the Stranger
The laundry hanging over the alley is pure white. That’s the first suspicious thing about it. Nobody has this much white laundry. Maybe that’s why people are stopping to take pictures. Or maybe it’s because you never see laundry lines downtown. They’ve mostly been banned as unsightly.
This particular alley is a stretch of Post Alley on the Belltown side of Pike Place Market, between Stewart and Virginia streets. One side of the alley is a building of fixed-income housing with a health clinic at street level. The other side is a condo tower. The clotheslines crisscross between the two. Do the people who share this alley share anything else, let alone joint clotheslines?
A posted sign at street level clears things up a little: This is a temporary installation by the artist Buster Simpson, a re-creation of a work of art he made, in the exact same alley, in 1978. The clothes themselves are recycled from a thrift shop and a cleaners where they’d gone unclaimed. The first time Simpson strung clotheslines between these parallel four floors was the start of the redevelopment of Belltown, when the condo tower was brand-new. Back then, most residents appreciated the clothesline, the sign says, but not everyone. “One gentleman from the fixed-income residence took offense to what he considered a reminder of his unpleasant past of being forced to hang his laundry out to dry,” Simpson writes. “Eventually, he cut down all the lines. I learned from this the humility of working in shared space, and the patience such work requires.”
For the current remake, Simpson got permission from private residents on both sides of the alley. Before the sign went up and while he was still finishing hanging the lines, people walking by would ask him what he was doing. Simpson, 71, is a highly approachable guy, built and tall like a hero but with the attitude of an imp. He has a square jaw and a torn-apart cotton-puff of white hair, his glasses are always falling down his nose a little so he can glance roguishly over them, and he slouches. He loves talking to people when he’s installing his art out in public. All he has ever wanted to do is work in public.
“To one person, I’d say, ‘It’s a protest against condos that have ordinances against laundry lines!’ But to the next person, I’ll say something else. Another line, you know? It’s my chance to be a kind of public performer,” he said, mischievously.
Every version of the story he tells is true. The art is a protest. It’s a decorative banner of simple human activity. It’s an experiment in tying together the rich and the poor. It’s a revelation of the context, of economic disparity at close range. There are many Buster Simpsons all at once.
Sometimes you don’t even notice his works. And sometimes when they’re most successful, they disappear entirely. Another work he made in 1978 involved a stretch of street in Belltown that stank of shit because there were no public accommodations. All along the street, he wanted to dig holes in the ground for pooping in. His idea was that after a sufficient accumulation of human waste at each hole, a tree could be planted on the compost. He had no permits, so he bought a Porta Potty case to camouflage the holes. The piece had two different locations—he successfully installed two different pooping holes—before he was shut down by the authorities, who agreed to institute public restrooms. Simpson considered it a win. The ultimate expression of the piece was it vanishing altogether, no longer having a reason to exist.
“See that hand railing?” he said while we were standing under the clotheslines in Post Alley a few weeks ago. He pointed to an unadorned metal bar on a building, the building with the low-income clinic. It’s not marked as art or as anything else, even though he put it there. The long hill to the water is perilously steep, Seattle-steep, and he set out to make a handrail all the way down the hill, in a basic effort to steady people in their environment. But “the property owners at the condos said no,” Simpson said, so the railing spans only one block. “But that’s just what public artists do. Little stuff. God’s work.”
It’s a common stereotype—and often a total falsehood—that artists are rebels; plenty of them are as rule-bound as anyone else. But Simpson really is counterculture to the core. His work is reactive. It has goals in mind. Very few artists these days openly call their work agitprop, but Simpson does—at least some of it.
Agitprop gets attention. In the 1980s, when Simpson threw large, soft limestone disks in the Hudson and Nisqually Rivers to neutralize acid rain, he created a media spectacle, with commentators dubbing it “River Rolaids.” You can see video of him dumping the disks in the river at the first full retrospective of his work, now up at the Frye Art Museum, which frames his career through his sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos, and installations, some new, some just newly framed. Seen splashing around in videos with the limestone disks—see page 19—Simpson looks like he’s having a blast. The video is projected in split-screen style with a video from another performance, for which he stripped naked and played David to the Goliath of the World Trade Center. With a sling, he flung little chunks of limestone toward the towering symbols of American greed. He was located at an enfeebling distance, but the gesture carried its own power even if no stone hit its target. Each chunk of stone was blasted with the word “PURGE.”
“I think of my work as political, yeah, but it’s like in the ’60s, we said, ‘If there’s no dancing in your revolution, we don’t want any part of it,” he reflected the other day, sitting across a worktable in the Leschi neighborhood grocery store that he converted into a studio and home. His wife is artist Laura Sindell, and they have a grown daughter, Hillela. “There were a lot of dogmatic communists running around in those days, and they didn’t have parties or know how to dance. I love to dance. Shit, I mean there has to be joy to this.”
Art wasn’t on his mind early in life. Like the Johnny Horton song says, Simpson was born in Saginaw, Michigan. He was a slow reader and an unremarkable student, probably an undiagnosed dyslexic, he thinks. Didn’t think he’d go to college, but when he went to sign up for the army, a recruiter was unfriendly, so he changed course. He took a job at a sign-painting company to pay for school and spent three years commuting to the junior college in Flint. Only the art department saw him as special and encouraged him, or that’s how he remembers the way he officially became an artist. He transferred to the University of Michigan to study art.
He continued to be chased by Vietnam, nearly getting drafted several times—enrolling in grad school when being an undergrad was no longer an exemption, and finally just barely aging out. At art school in Michigan, Simpson became friends with a guy who went on to be one of the organizers of “An Aquarian Exposition in White Lake, N.Y.,” also known as Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock. Woodstock became famous for the music, of course, but it was called the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and Simpson—back in that postschool period when he was still alternating living out of his van and crisscrossing the United States on his motorcycle —was invited to be codirector of Woodstock Art.
Simpson’s original idea for the festival was to wrap Dutch elm trees in a covering like foil. By 1969, Dutch elm disease was well-known to be infesting the area, and in fact causing the great elm decline of Europe and North America, devastating many species. Simpson’s reflective coverings would not have actually protected the trees, just suggested protection. They were intended to alert people to the fact that there was a major problem deep in these woods. But the organizers wanted something “that smelled like patchouli oil, that was back-to-nature”—so foil was out. They wanted nostalgia. He would have preferred what he would later come to call “poetic utility.”
He tried to keep as much poetry, and as much utility, as he could in his second idea for Woodstock. Because the festival was at a dairy farm, he decided to design and build a mini-farm there. It had 200 little chicks, kept in an enclosure with heat lamps, and a playpen for people, including a jungle gym and a labyrinth. The whole thing was intended as an escape from the wildness of the music stage, a place where people could go to recharge and maybe bring the kids, see the animals and plants, and notice how far they had come from the city.
But then Woodstock went aggro in the other sense. The art was forcibly overcome by the hordes, and Simpson was briefly stunned. He had to adjust quickly. He dismantled the art and distributed its components as firewood and sleeping mats. He got the animals out of harm’s way and went to serve as security at the harrowing front of the stage. After the crowds left, he stayed to clean up, which included literally mending farmers’ fences.
As an artist, he never had a white-cube phase.
Another of the Super 8 videos at the Frye is unlike most video you’ll ever see in an art exhibition. It shows a bunch of people sitting around a table, tucking in for a long meeting in the sort of drab, cramped conference room that could kill even a born middle manager. There isn’t a hint of irony. The video is pure boredom.
The point is that behind Buster Simpson’s art, there are meetings. And more meetings. But it’s not just that. He filmed the meetings. He is proud of surviving the meetings.
As counterculture as Simpson is, to get his work done, he bends to pressures that most artists find completely distasteful, toiling alongside powerful people who want him to be their decorator, or who have essentially no real interest in art. And yet it would be hard to say which he despises more: merely decorative public art or esoteric private art.
Simpson’s coming-of-age and the invention of American public art coincided exactly. Simpson, Sherry Markovitz, and Andrew Keating were the first-ever team of artists to be included at the start and throughout all phases of a public construction project—a process that was nationally heralded and widely adopted after Seattle’s example in 1979. The revolutionary idea was that art should be more than a plopped-down afterthought, and like most revolutionary ideas, it created new conflicts while solving old ones.
Not every one of Simpson’s more than three dozen public pieces quite survived the meetings. “There are a lot of projects, and they all have their varying degrees of it,” he said, it meaning what he wanted, without compromise.
His greatest disappointment—aside from the pieces that were never built—can be found at the University of Washington Tacoma. A pretty neat piece of his there rings the top of an 1891 brick building in the center of campus. It’s called Parapet Relay because the words that appear on it change depending on your viewing angle; they seem to hand off to each other. They alternate between “GATHER,” “LABOR,” “IDEA,” “WISDOM,” “STORAGE,” “TACOMA,” and “UW.” It’s subtle but cool, and it references the ghostly historical signage in that part of downtown. But Simpson had envisioned far more than a skin-deep intervention when he was commissioned by UWT. He’d wanted to help shape the way the entire campus relates to history, and to the steep grade of the hillside. “I’d wanted acknowledgements of the new overlays on these historical buildings, to be obvious about it, to let accretion happen,” he said. “They wanted to make it look like a campus. You do what you can do, and you move on.”
Then there are the pieces that just have no budget for maintenance. At Seattle’s convention center downtown, there’s a wind-powered topiary that’s nothing but rusted metal now. (It was installed in 1989.) The vines are supposed to grow on a structure shaped like the profile of Chief Sealth, then be cut by a wind vane shaped like the profile of George Washington. It’s a great idea. Even the gardener there, an immigrant himself—reimagining Washington as an immigrant is one of the thoughts in the piece—said when I visited on a recent afternoon that he hopes it gets fixed soon.
Simpson’s latest public commission is a massive curtain of steel mesh wrapped around a helical parking-lot ramp at Sea-Tac Airport, flashlit by colored LEDs. The twisted wire mesh is the hexagonal kind used in road building, referencing both highways and the chemical structure of carbon. With its lights, the piece is visible from the street, from a car, and from the air, drawing together the three systems already at play in the airport environment.
But he doesn’t just make local work: Around the world, Simpson is still trying to convince various decision makers—a college dean in Maine, the leaders of Qatar—to implement crazy ideas he cooked up years ago. Since 1996, for instance, he’s been laboring on something having to do with the Magna Carta and a yew tree.
“The whole public art movement, it’s been our movement and it’s been our patronage,” he said. Sometimes he uses the royal “we,” and when I asked him about it, he earnestly spoke about how much collaboration it takes to make his art, and he made a convincing case, so it sounded less pompous.
In this case, he was also referring to public artists in general.
“It’s made us more responsive to communicating,” he continued. “We have to communicate on a lower discourse, or maybe not lower, it’s a populist discourse. When you talk to a developer, they can just shut you out, even though there’s public money. So we’ve had to develop our wit in another way. We’re very political.”
Another Super 8 video. It’s grainy and it shows a street with Elliott Bay in the foggy background. In the center of the frame is a two-story building whose second story is off-kilter, as if it’s about to fall. This is 1978, at 2001 First Avenue, where there are still old sailor bars with 6 a.m. happy hours in the neighborhood, but all that is about to change. Somebody is inside this building, up in the big bay window on this tilted second floor. Suddenly, the building crashes down. There’s only a pile of rubble. With somebody inside.
The somebody was a silhouette that Simpson made. He cut it out of sheet metal just so he could film it, so he could capture the image of somebody standing while old Seattle fell.
Around this time, his silhouettes materialized again and again out on the streets of what was then referred to as the Denny Regrade neighborhood. They stood on the roof at the abandoned Pine Tavern, acting as weather vanes. Inside the tavern, where Simpson could rent a huge studio for peanuts because the building was about to be razed, he rigged an apparatus so that whenever the wind blew, the figures on the roof activated other metal figures down in the bar, and the wind swept rows of bottles off the bar and onto the floor. Broken glass was collected and sold for cash to donate to the clinic.
Photos from the time show that there were a lot of empty bottles, especially fortified wine bottles. The people, like the neighborhood, were wobbly, in transition. Many were indigenous people stranded on stolen land. Around this time, Simpson also set up gates around individual trees that he fashioned out of crutches and the headboards of beds salvaged from torn-down old hotels. He was trying to steady both people and plantings in the midst of Seattle’s rapid change.
The name he gave his silhouetted figure was Woodman. At the Pine Tavern, Woodman turned wind into medicine. He became Simpson’s most romantic alter ego. The other figure to appear repeatedly in his work is the crow, the urban adapter who takes whatever he can get and finds a way to use it.
In many ways, Simpson has lived the myths of his alter egos. His mark is still visible in northern downtown, where he was based from 1974 to 1987, moving from doomed location to doomed location and using the conditions of real estate as the basis for his work, just as Gordon Matta-Clark was doing in New York at the same time. Sometimes he was directly pragmatic. When a cherry tree was going to be removed to make way for a new condo, he tried to save it by building a nest in it and occupying the nest. When that failed to stop the tree’s destruction, he managed to get his hands on the tree and carve its wood into a ladder that he’d use to climb into the next tree that needed saving in the demolitions.
It’s worth pointing out that Simpson’s early works in Belltown came long before the terms “relational aesthetics” and “social practice” were coined, terms that are now ubiquitous in artspeak. They refer to the belief that art should instigate connections in the real world, not just provoke gaping and gawking. Simpson’s experiments also long predated the proliferation of farmers markets in cities, the spreading of the gospel of the locavores.
Coexisting with a willful environment that refuses to fade into the background is in Simpson’s blood. His mother was a schoolteacher, his father a storekeeper, and they lived along Michigan’s Cass River. Every spring, the river flooded. The water would rise up into the basement and flood the coal stove. Filling the stove, in cold weather, was Simpson’s job mornings and evenings. It was the kind of town where, when the river ran red, that meant the slaughterhouse was killing. Close to the land. Then came Silent Spring. He was situated to be part of a new Hudson River School of art, a polluted Hudson River School.
In the very early 1970s, it was Dale Chihuly—also known for his exuberant ways—who brought Simpson to Seattle. Chihuly heard Simpson give a talk at the Rhode Island School of Design and drafted Simpson into a plan for a dream school based on the model of the interdisciplinary Black Mountain College in rural North Carolina. In those early days of what became Pilchuck Glass School in the woodsy wilderness of Stanwood, Simpson was head of media, basically video and sound. When the school soon narrowed its focus to glass, Simpson dropped out. “It just didn’t interest me.” What did was the young, transforming city of Seattle.
In what’s maybe his biggest project yet, the City of Seattle just recently chose Simpson as lead artist for the re-creation of the seawall that separates—and connects—the urban core and the whole underwater world of Elliott Bay. He’s still in the idea phase, hasn’t made drawings yet. But whatever he creates, it won’t try to blend in, act natural. After Simpson is finished with the seawall, maybe people will notice, maybe for the first time, that there’s a seawall there at all.
No vinyl letters were printed for wall labels in the Frye show. Instead, all of the wall text was handwritten on chunks of drywall salvaged from past exhibitions. In keeping with reusing, reducing, and recycling, some of the sculptures even sit on platforms created out of folded-down sections of the Frye’s own walls, exposing beams behind the drywall and creating new views between galleries.
Museums typically keep Simpson outdoors—as at the New Museum in New York in 1983, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, in 1989, and the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in 2000 (he doesn’t have a dealer or a gallery)—but not the Frye.
He didn’t adjust to go inside at the Frye—the Frye adjusted to him.
“We wanted to be Buster while doing Buster,” said Frye curator Scott Lawrimore, who likes to call Simpson “the spiritual father of our city.” A museum guard said, “We’ve been Busterized.” “Bustified,” Simpson interjected, his hands thrust deep inside the wire frame of what he calls his “Venus de Gabion,” where he was engaged in a shape puzzle with some chunks of white limestone.
A “gabion” is one of those terms only an engineer or Buster Simpson knows: It refers to the rock-stuffed cages that keep hillsides in place along roads. Simpson has a whole borrowed vocabulary from the utilitarian built environment that he’s just waiting to turn into art.
But Simpson’s two sides—”poetry” and “utility,” as he puts it—are rivals as often as partners. His work is, productively, torn between the two. Take what I see as the “readymade room” at the Frye, a gallery where several of Simpson’s sculptures stand alone on pedestals in a clean modernist display befitting Brancusi or a hardware store—meaning they seriously resemble an exhibition of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades from a century ago. The readymades were already-made utilitarian objects Duchamp placed in a gallery, rendering them useless, scrambling their meaning entirely, and infuriating everybody, all by doing nothing to “make” the art except adding an art context.
Simpson does make things, and what look like readymades from him are functioning tools. At the Frye, a honing wheel mounted on feet that loudly echoes Duchamp’s bicycle wheel on a stool is an actual knife sharpener. His shovel is a shovel is a shovel: Simpson wanted to put one into the hands of each incoming freshman at a snowy college campus in Maine as a response to the college’s call for a public commission. Simpson’s idea of a monument is a shovel in use.
If Duchamp’s readymades signaled that art environments aggressively remove function from objects, Simpson’s insistence on functioning art signals the return of the repressed. It is no longer fashionable for a museum to be a rarefied environment, and it is not a coincidence that Simpson is appearing at the Frye in the moment during the museum’s life when it’s reaching out into the world the most. In recent years, the Frye has hosted performances and installations that have broken through its walls, taking place down the block or out in its reflecting pools. The Frye’s Simpson exhibition is a tribute to the person in Seattle who most single-handedly—even if he was working collaboratively—started all this.
And just as those experiments have been thrilling in part for their awkwardness in a traditional museum setting, there’s a necessarily awkward fit between Simpson and the Frye. Despite the fact that his installations spill out into streets and head all the way down to the shared clothesline in Post Alley, parts of Simpson can’t be contained even in a deconstructed museum. Or they’re in there, but you’d have to dig through hours of videos and documentary photographs and written histories and plans to find them.
The same can be said of many late-20th-century artists who don’t fit cleanly into categories but attract institutional admiration, attention, and canonization—like Gordon Matta-Clark (sculptor of doomed buildings before they were demolished), Robert Smithson (creator of Spiral Jetty, a swirl of rocks deposited on a remote edge of the Great Salt Lake), and Robert Irwin (whose chaotic garden at the Getty Center in LA is designed to subvert Richard Meier’s Valhallic architecture). Those names come up when Simpson talks about his heroes, as does Robert Rauschenberg, the late great pop artist who was an ardent recycler of materials. This spring, Simpson was selected as one of the pilot artists-in-residence at Rauschenberg’s 20-acre estate on Captiva Island in Florida.
Simpson’s aesthetics are essentially modernist and postmodernist; he speaks of “honesty,” of using art to pull back curtains, tell truths. If there’s one truth he’s interested in, it’s probably this: “No matter where you go, it’s always turf,” he said. “It’s always somebody’s turf.”
Sounds basic, until you consider the difference between, say, Simpson’s idea to wrap the Woodstock Dutch elms in silvery material, and the silvery tree made 40 years later by another artist, Roxy Paine, that stands prominently in downtown Seattle today, prettifying the manicured landscape of Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park overlooking Elliott Bay. It’s a cool sight, but somewhat blank. Simpson was not included in the park, and he still bemoans its lack of “boogie-woogie,” meaning flux, movement, life. The landscape he wants to change, anyway, is your mind.
In the hours leading up to the Frye opening three weeks ago, Simpson was not getting ready. He was running around putting up illegal art at a construction site near the museum. He tacked up a stretch of orange construction netting stamped with the words “POETICALLY CORRECT” in the same font as “DANGER DO NOT ENTER” tape. It was torn down almost immediately, as he later put it, by “some unknown level of authority with a lack of poetic appreciation.”
Again, the man is 71 years old.
The same week, 175 miles south of the spot where this fleeting statement was thwarted on the eve of his museum show, something unknown was growing on a Simpson installation in Portland—an installation that’s really an endurance project. It’s a nurse log he put up in 1991. He had it trucked into downtown from the city’s watershed and stationed outside the convention center, where it meets other visitors to the metropolis.
Years later, another nurse log appeared at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, with some significant differences. Still, plenty of people squawked that Simpson got there first. In Seattle, New York artist Mark Dion laid his own nurse log—lifted from another watershed and trucked into this city—inside a glass container. As time goes by, the house grows tight. “It’s gonna be one hell of a bonsai project,” Simpson said. His only wish to change the Dion log would be to situate it, rather than in the park, at the base of a high-rise tower, “near the citadels of capitalism and commodity, as a perversely nice complement” making its own subversive commentary.
Simpson’s 1991 nurse log in Portland sits unencumbered outdoors. Its new growths are free to shoot up into the air as far as they want to go. The original log, meanwhile, gradually disintegrates to form new ground. Natives and invasives are so mixed up together that the habitat is like a new planet; forestry students keep an eye on it for their own research.
Simpson visits it, too. The way he talks, it’s clear that he loves his nurse log sculpture, maybe more than any other single thing he’s made.
“It continues to feed me,” he said. “It’s on its own logic. There’s a work of art that won’t be finished for a thousand years.”