Monday
Mar232015

What is your "Butch's Watch"?

I was asked once about a year ago by an art patron at a gala event "what's your 'Butch's watch'"? This caught my attention, a Pulp Fiction reference in a fine arts event conversation? I never really considered what that meant before. It took a great time of thought. As much as I love my computer and several hard drives they don't mean much of a hand down heirloom. Nor do any of the watches I own. I had inherited a leather briefcase and a doctor bag from my great grandfather each of which suffered water damage over the years and would not likely make it to my son and even so, how do these decisions begin? Puzzled I told the patron I didn't know but I thanked them for their interesting question and it remained with me for weeks in the back of my head.

After much thought I concluded my 'watch'. It wasn't a watch, it wasn't a bag but a pencil. Yes a pencil. See, about two weeks before I had a conversation with my son in my studio while I was sketching out a design for a project. I was changing the pencils and pens I used and he had been very observant. He noted that each time I signed a print I had used a blue pen. I told him it was a mechanical pencil. He wasn't familiar so I showed him what kind of mechanical pencils I had over the years and it dawned on me where this came from. It was like a euphoric feeling from the film, Inception, an epiphany. 

You see, as a child I spent much time with my grandfather who entertained me by sketching and watching nature shows, talking about the cultures of the world. I spent much time with him in his shop sorting part and repairing items we would find on Sunday outings. He seemed to have an interest in drafting (of no coincidence I had pursued in college). On a trip to Seattle at the UW bookstore going to visit my aunt with him he browsed over the mechanical pencils in the cases amongst the vellum and t-rulers. I looked to one side of the store what seemed endless, a wall of art papers I was immersed and captive to this place. He asked what I thought about the pencils and explained the purpose of the different leads and all the planning that went into drafting.

"It doesn't mean you can't use this for sketching if you like, that's what most 9mm are used for but most work comes from the 5mm" he said. "ok, if that's the best all purpose one, then sure" I picked out a Niji 500, blue 5mm reading made in Japan on the side. I walked to the counter with him and it's only long after being asked this question what object means so much to you to pass down that I uncovered this memory.

One might wonder why it's not an adze or the doctor bag I have to give over, well here is where I explain. This moment with my son, sitting at my desk where he asked "is that something you would give to me someday?" and to my curiosity I asked why he was interested "well, it's something important to you and I know it. I love to draw and I know it's important to you." I then and there told him where it came from and how and why it was important to me. He smiled and said how he thought that was so cool and went on to ask why we'd ever need pencils if we had these and lead and I told him I asked my grandpa the same thing.

I write this post up late as usual or 'early' I should say, because after much stress of not knowing where that object was I found it tonight. I had been looking for a cable and desperately grabbed at a kleenex size box. I was taking out one item at a time trying to keep patience and then my son saw me light up in silence and perhaps react in slow motion. There it was, he came to my side to see and he had the biggest smile. "that's it! Dad, that's it right?!" to reply I turned to him and said "yes, son that's it and someday it will be yours".

How trivial it is what objects mean to us. One would imagine I have a mask in our family but we are not mask people, we do not have ownership of Skwai kwe. Nor have I inherited carving tools from my grandfathers beyond my great uncle. The tools of our traditional craft are not everyday and I don't plan to impose my chosen occupation on my son because his life belongs to him. The world changes in many ways but a writing instrument is universal and necessary.

This moment I see in piles of boxes what I knew was important all along. My son, his well being and what I can pass on to him. And then after all that he said, "dad I really like your long shot 70-200mm canon lens, can I have that too"? to be continued...

Friday
Mar202015

The fight of flight

It's a hard thing to move and it's an even harder thing to give up the comforts of what you make a home. Sometimes we fly high to feel the sun and sometimes we fly low to be undetected. Today we are in transition and transition is hard and I'm not gonna lie. I leave behind a place I knew brief but one that was hard to leave. I have come back home to work as I have before and in any move this means adjustments of which there will be many. I left a good part of who I was behind and that said I want so much for that to mean something.

I'm crossing my fingers for great things grateful for all I've received in this life. I think so often to my family and the people I have come to know as friends. I think a great deal of the symbolism when I see hawks perched over the freeway lamps looking over the freeway. So majestic, unapologetic. They owe the world no explanation to their adaption of perch. The world for our Native people has not been unchanged and therfore nor has our way of life. I always come back to this confronted romantisicm. One that Native people should remain in the time they were 'discovered' but not allowed to change as all things do. I share a revalation I had from the best friend I will ever know in discovering that 'it's fear that keeps us from accepting many things' but even so we are allowed as adults a time out. One to grace ourselves with downtime and recollect ourselves. I'm hoping in this downtime I will keep moving forward.

Monday
Dec152014

The Why behind Designing Sealth's Hawk

I will start this entry by stating, this design is an original design based on the style of work I create in which is Coast Salish style indigenous to the Tacoma - Seattle area in Washington state. I began my journey as an artist under a misconception that the totem poles and formline art in the urban areas was something of my heritage only to discover several different origins. The Seahawks logo for example was inspired by a mask the belonged to the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Canada. It is much like the totem pole of Pioneer square that also came from elsewhere. However, those images have long swayed the ideas of many people for decades, myself included on what Native art is in the Seattle area.

photo compilation from Burke Museum exhibit Here & Now

It has long been my goal to explore the art of my heritage and be part of a bigger picture, one that includes the exploration of new ideas. When most people think of Native art they think of red and black designs, Indians on horseback hunting buffalo or a totem pole at the waterfront. The Coast Salish of which Seattle is named after Chief Sealth have been overlooked for many years. Knowing this I wanted to create something that would pay respect to the leader in a style of art that comes from a descendant of his nation.

I see today so often things that are 'Native Inspired' but few things Native designed. In doing the work I do and reaching out to friends and colleagues in the same practice I hope to help make that a change for a new generation. Rather than create from outside of the culture I am creating from within it. 

Sunday
Oct262014

Happy Sunday Hawk Fans

Here's for my friends and family who are Seahawk fanatical. I named it Sealth's Hawk to also acknowledge Chief Sealth for which the city is named. I hope you all like the animation as it took quite some time to work on in After Effects. For more info on how to purchase the print click here. Go Hawks!

Saturday
Oct182014

Appropriations of a different kind

Normally there would be some ranty text from me sounding off like an old man complaining about hipsters in headdresses here but hold up. This is an entry of a new kind. My friend Jeffrey Veregge (Port Gamble S'Klallam) who was recently down my way visiting Portland shared with me a concern about someone gaining recognition for merging Northwest Coast Native art with Modern iconography. This is Jeffs background and what has defined his work which was not easy to establish. To boot this guy's work took on one of my friends whom I've had great respect for for many years, Kwakwaka’wakw/Comox artist Andy Everson. I consider Andy a pioneer in artists breaking ground in the digital arts and subject matter. These two come from Native communities and have established themselves with experiences much like my own with statements from people of not doing things the Indian way and so forth. When I once spoke to Andy about this over the phone I always remember him saying

"They love to bring up how we didn't use computers etc. but if I'm drawing with a pencil, they forget there was a time when we didn't have those either so why not go all out and say that too"

I guess my point here is that Native artists face different expectations on how we should be doing things, keeping in tradition. This has been a sore spot with me for years as a sculptor and one who loves to utilize technology in all kinds of ways from initial design to installation or site plan layouts. My point is, Native culture has been one of adaptation. We do not live in the world our ancestors did before certain technologies were brought in. It's a false romantic notion that our ancestors would be ashamed of us now for using chain saws or computers. Had that been true our earliest trades would have never called to trade our goods for tools steel and the like for it's those imports that made the sculptures people stand in awe of came from. I say this as a Native artist knowing where I come from and the culture I am still part of today thriving in song and dance and legend.

This movement that has been active in waves for years of people taking interest in Native culture is and I believe will always be ongoing. The latest wave of hipsters donning headdresses claiming one tribe and to not judge. Well as a Native American I can say, there is no One tribe, there are many. Being part of a tribe doesn't grant you privilege by birth or adoption to do whatever you want and 'live free'. Had this been true tribes would never have survived. One of our most inaccurate but reocurring stereotypes is of our people whoop calling and dancing around a fire in chaos. There is order and there is a way to do things. One can go there whole life without having a role in certain aspect of ceremonial practices but they are just as well off as anyone else. Being Indian isn't about dancing around a fire or being wild, to me it's about being part of something and respecting your place in the bigger picture.

I preface all this because I feel it's important to know. The designer in question Scott Erickson has gotten some praise for his Northwest Coast Native 'style' of work married with pop culture, specifically Sci-fi creations. It came to my attention and it was immediately bothersome to know people have no boundaries. As I stated above, I have great respect for Andy and when speaking in public share how he was quite influential in me making the move to do digital work early on. I believe when an artist even one who steals, has to acknowledge the inspiration behind something, but when I read titles like "Great Sun Bear" and "Grey Eagle Wolf" it sounds like a mockery of Native culture. It motivated me to compile the side by side in this post. That's all I have to say for now. Please share if you like. Know that his prints are selling on his website but to support the true creators of the content and concepts.

Andy's site is www.andyeverson.com

Jeff's site is www.jeffreyveregge.com