An evening spent in conversation with Vincent Varga…wowsah! This was a surprise. I guess this was some sort of an artist’s profile experience at the Gorilla House. I arrived as per usual sometime around six thirty. The gorillas were sitting on the front step. It was a grey evening, but the air was beautiful. I was anticipating PAINTING because I had missed last week, pushed down into covers with a chest cold, and while I had good intentions around the studio this week, I ended up spending more time in the garden in the sunshine than anything else.
The guys told me that I was on film…”Go back to the bushes, they said.” Take TWO! So funny. I don’t know what I talked about while I painted, but I really truly didn’t shut up. The thing was…I was super focused on what I wanted to paint about and so to have a conversation was likely going to distract a little from that. Vincent, though, was a natural and his interview questions were endearing and brought up a lot of stuff for me. As I left at the end of the evening I was thinking about a lot of things.
First: My intentions for the evening.
Earlier in the month, I wrote about an exceptional book written by Joseph Marshall III. I know it’s had a huge impact on me and unless I can get some of it worked out of my system, I’m afraid I’m going to somehow ‘contain’ the content and I feel that I need to express it, not hold on to it. The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn: A Lakota History is a book for everyone.
First Nations Artist, George Littlechild, has recently put me in touch with a huge archive of old photographs posted here. When I saw an album posted of the Sicangu Lakota, I knew that I wished to portray one of the many people captured in the collection. When I heard the themes for the evening, I was especially happy because the third concept selected was pulled out of a BC comic strip, “struggle to defend himself and justify his place in the universe.” GO!
I chose, out of a number of references, to use a photograph of Tacha Sinte Sapa (aka Black Tail Deer) the husband of Nite Win (aka Hip Woman) of the Oglala Lakota. No date was available on the photograph and certainly, in the end, I did not capture much of a likeness. I DO know however, that I am going to paint Black Tail Deer again. I began, as I typically do when painting a portrait, by turning the image upside down. In this way, I do not focus on capturing THAT likeness, but rather, focus on the forms of dark and light, this after writing out the last paragraph from Marshall’s book.
“True,” the grandfather replied, “but like all stories, it has a lesson. You can be like the young man in my story who forgot where he came from. Or you can choose never to forget who you are, and where you are from.”
While I painted, I talked to Vincent about my father…about endangered species…about rose hip tea and cactus berries…the gorilla house…about painting and recollections of small pots of oil paint, the smell of linseed oil. It seems that I’ve had quite a history and Marshall’s words were coming to life in me as I painted. I can not forget who I am. I can not forget where I have been. Notions of place, identity and memory permeate my work consistently. It took talking about it to figure that out.
There were some wonderful conversations that circled my easel. Thanks to all of the people who seem to care hugely about these same issues that concern me.
Thanks to Ryan for your generous purchase of this piece at auction. It was a wonderful thing to learn afterwards that you are working with folk who are marginalized by their addictions and struggling to rise above them. I mean it. Phone me and I will deliver some volunteer art programs and do some portrait work with your gaggle!
Thanks to Vincent Varga, for expanding my heart.