A private function this week in Santa Fe on Museum Hill featured a few of the most innovative New Mexico Native American artists exhibiting today. One of my favorite Indian artists, Nocona Burgess, was present exhibiting his work. I was delighted to chat with him about his techniques, as I think he is breaking out nationally in a huge way, gaining tremendous steam in the last few years. He had just returned from a trip to Providence, RI, where he was working with his exclusive east coast gallery, The Gallery at 17 Peck.
Burgess, like me, is a native Oklahoman. He is a Comanche from Lawton, Oklahoma, descendant of chiefs. He is the great-great grandson of Chief Quanah Parker (whose mother was kidnapped Anglo-Texan Cynthia Ann Parker, pictured below at left). Nocona's father, Ronald Burgess, was also a former chief of the Comanche tribe. His father, an artist, is his biggest influence and T.C. Cannon was his stepping-off point. He had experience at the University of Oklahoma and studying the Kiowa Five artists, and like them, he tends to paint only one character in each painting. Vermeer's style of painting on dark backgrounds is another influence. With education in fine arts, and now a New Mexico resident, Burgess serves as a mentor to Indian art students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe (where he received an associate degree in Fine Arts). His works often are for sale in the IAIA gift shop gallery at the IAIA. It was only after he returned to his art and family roots in Oklahoma, completing his bachelor degree in Fine Arts that he embraced art full-time and had his first art show at Red Earth in Oklahoma City.
His technique, especially his Indian portraits, hearken to the second half of the 1800s Edward S. Curtis photo close-ups, like that of Geronimo, at right, but taken into a digital feel with a unique style of using color, brush techniques and black backgrounds, Vermeer-esque, as a starting point. For figurative painting, his technique is one of the most modern endpoints on a continuum from the hide painting flat-style one-dimensional figures that became then translated on the easel with the University of Oklahoma art-trained Kiowa Five early in the 20th century.
related: Famous Indian Artists: Yesterday to Today