Crow artist Kevin Red Star visited Paris in the mid-’80s; 30 years later, he returned for his first solo exhibition at the Orenda Gallery, remembering with enthusiasm his previous visit to a city he loves.
This time was made even more special by Red Star’s cousin, Kevin Dust, a professional horse trainer and performance artist at Disney France, who welcomed him to the June 2 opening with Crow songs and music, transforming the streets of Paris into a spontaneous Native American parade. The sound of the drums had surprised Parisians on the block opening their windows to peer out at the spectacle.
ICTMN asked him to discuss his work and Paris visit.
In the context of contemporary Native American art, and its trend for installations and conceptual work, you choose to maintain a figurative style, attached to a vision of the traditional world. Why is that?
Well, I get my inspiration from my mother, father, uncles, older people — listening to their stories, around the kitchen table, and from those memories, I try to visualize a scenario. To incorporate those scenes in a painting. And before, I thought every tribe in Montana was similar, but during my research about the Crow Indians design, clothing, tools, I found out that each one of the seven groups is unique. And on our reservation, we have a gathering in the summer, with thousands of tipis and parades, where I get a lot of ideas, taking photos and sketching.
Do you think of Santa Fe the center of Native American art — is that why you lived there ?
When I was younger, I lived there as one of the first students of the institute of American Indian arts, IAIA, when it opened. Certainly, Santa Fe is one of the art centers — like New York, los Angeles, Denver. But also, with all the diverse groups of people who live there, so many galleries, and fantastic museums, it is special.
Could you name some of the artists who inspired you ?
James McGrath, my teacher, who is an artist and poet from Santa Fe. He introduced us to many world art forms. And Allan Houser, Charles Loloma and Lloyd New.
And among non Natives ?
Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg — I had a great time discovering the whole era of the ’50s and ’60s, and its fantastic artists. Then Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin.
In Paris, do you introduce yourself as a Native American artist, or an American artist? And what type of reactions have you been getting?
Both! As an American painter, a representative of my country, and Native American, from my Native people of Montana. The reactions were amazing. The people are very intellectual, and sophisticated in their choices. They’ve done research on pottery, jewelry, and painting.
Did you like Paris ?
I fell in love with the city. I took a river boat cruise, and it’s so beautiful. The way the architecture is laid out, everything is inspiring: the people, the way they dress, the restaurants. The whole city.
What is your vision of Native American art today?
It is progressing. The writers and poets are astounding, and there’s a new generation of filmmakers and fashion designers. Young people are doing dynamic work, so it’s going to flourish. We will be in the limelight for a while. Also, there is still space for new trends, because of this comfortable zone where some people tend to stay — if an artist wants to grow, he has to take chances, move forward. But I like to keep a positive outlook: Art moves the world, and when I am in that realm, I see hope for humanity.