The title above is the first line from Claes Oldenburg’s 1961 manifesto, and it really fits the way I see Bunky Echo-Hawk’s work and style. He visited Thunder-Sky, Inc. this weekend, and basically created a whole suite of paintings out of thin air. Friday, we had a gallery filled with 16 blank canvases, one 3′ X 4′, the rest 16″ X 20″. That was the tabula-rasa. Bunky came in from Oklahoma Thursday night, and then Friday visited a classroom at Clark Montessori High School, and then went to the gallery and started to work. Around 7:30 pm or so, he gave a talk about his philosophy on art to a group of about 50 people who showed up, and asked them if they would mind participating in the show as stand-in muses. 16 people were game. He asked each volunteer to hold a canvas, and he got to work, interviewing each canvas-holder about what was inside their heads concerning representations of Native Americans.
Stock images came forth (Geronimo, Dances with Wolves, etc.), as well as shock images (scalping, war paint, etc.). Fire was mentioned, as well as the Jodie Foster movie Contact. The whole feeling was like at a county fair, when you pay a caricaturist to do a portrait of you playing golf or driving the kids to soccer practice. But the reality was that Bunky was on an excavation for whatever truth is left where representations of Native Americans are concerned. Calm, reserved and very kind, he respectfully probed and prodded each person. The responses, however, weren’t really as important to the whole gig as Bunky’s reponses to the responses. Bunky wanted to take stock images and tired tropes and reinvent them into small, precise pictographs, inverting centuries of mythologizing by the People in Power into smart-assed interrogations of what those mythologies do when you don’t understand their innate power to structure the way you see and act and even feel.
So what could be seen as a gimmick or a stunt becomes a way out of the same old bull-shit, and the 16 paintings he will leave in his wake are evidence of listening, responding, and creating meaning from Political Correctness or just plain Amnesia. The P-C Amnesia is nobody’s fault in the room, of course. Like any other disapora or ghetto, the reservation has to be made into something we can all tolerate through that one Pop Culture tear crawling tenderly down the cheek of the Native American chief in the Keep America Beautiful PSA.
Bunky’s art isn’t about blame: it’s about getting the joke.
The Oldenburg quote comes at you like an arrow. Art has to do something other than sit on its ass in a museum, or it becomes as ossified and correct as “official history.” In his small, concise way, and in his whole body of work, Bunky Echo-Hawk is creating art that is political-erotical-mystical, and I’ll add a few too: comical-ironical-beautiful.
|Bunky at Clark Montessori High School|
|First painting at Thunder-Sky, Inc.|
|Raymond’s brother Michael Thunder-Sky, Bunky Echo-Hawk, and Thunder-Sky Family Friend and Thunder-Sky, Inc. Board Member Larry Higdon|
|Bunky giving a digital tour of his art|
|“Indian as Cowboy”|