Carrying the story of his ancestors to the canvas, by Kristin McNamara Freeman

In 1991 I went to a gallery show in Red Lodge, Montana, and there I “met” an artist whose work called out to me from the walls of the Merida Gallery. Each piece held me  with the strong images presented and the language of Native people illustrated in the techniques of a fine contemporary artist. Kevin Red Star called out to me through the images presented at that show. Each year through 1996 I returned to see his work at this gallery and in 1997 I visited the Red Star Gallery in Roberts, Montana, for a benefit show and sale for the Boys and Girls Clubs. In 1994 and 95 I was able to see his work at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, a marvelous venue for the exhibition of his paintings. My budget allowed only for me to own some signed posters of his work.

A step back in time to Kevin’s birth in 1943 and his early life in Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation is where we can learn how Kevin’s creative adeptness was nurtured by his family and teachers. His mother designed and created in applique pieces of regalia for tribal dancers and blankets for people in the tribe. His father, a musician,  would bring Kevin prints of the work of Charlie Russell and he would make copies of those watercolors and learned about creating images of the spaces where a person dwells, for that is what C.M. Russell sketched and painted. There is a wonderful series of videos called from the spirit with Kevin telling his story at www.kevinredstar.com/vodeos, a series well worth taking the time to view. There are some good pieces of information on succeeding in making and selling art; his daily commitment to showing up, creating and getting lost in his work is a large portion of why he has been so successful. His respect for the ownership of a symbol or design he might want to include in a work is expressed in one of his recordings, an interview from The Backroads of Montana on PBS; although he is a Crow, he would never use an image unless the family who has this image on their regalia or other family possessions gave their permission to him for the use.

Inspiration for Kevin’s work comes from looking around the land where he lives and works, taking walks for inspiration and seeing what shapes and forms in the landscape speak to him.He never grows tired of taking in the energy of the land of his people, nor looking closely at the horses, buffalo and the Crow people as he includes them in the work he creates.

In his video “painting the journey” found at the above link, Keven describes his process in creating a large piece for installation at a public building. He describes how he uses the tipi poles and the poles in the travois (used for carrying large loads behind horses) to direct the eyes of the viewer from the historical Native images to the newly constructed building in the painting. Buffalo were important images and yet they were too dominant in the design until he painted them as the clouds in white. Lesson after lesson about design decisions is given by Kevin in this recorded piece.

Kevin’s education at Institute for American Indian Art in Sante Fe, New Mexico, was a life changing opportunity for him. Here he learned not simply technique but how an artist works and presents themselves to the world. From there he went to the Art Institute in San Francisco for more study and growth as an artist. Kevin continued to be a part of the community of working artists as he shared critique session with other artists, presented work in galleries and shows and settled in Sante Fe for several years and still maintains homes in both Montana and New Mexico.

There is a fine article in the “Santa Fe New Mexican”. August 17, 2014, written by Daniel Gibson, author of the newly released book on Kevin Red Star. There is a wonderful photo with the article that captures the heart centered joy that he expresses as he talks to you. You may read the article at http://www.santafenewmexican.com/magazines/indian_market_2014/kevin-red-starr-pushing-into-unknown-territory/article_9aec8c64-23c4

The “Big Sky Journal” has another article penned by the author of the book on Kevin Red Star, Daniel Gibson. Here is a photo of the cover of the magazine

Big Sky Journal Arts 2014  Painting featured in Big Sky Journal article

Big Medicine

Keven’s work is represented at the Smithsonian, The Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Whitney Museum of Western Art, eSpace in Paris and other galleries and museums in Europe and the US.

Kevin will be speaking at the Linden Museum in Stuttgart Germany on October 6th, 2014. He will present the story of his childhood on the Crow Indian Reservation and his 50 years of making art. He will then be at the Book Faire in Frankfurt, Germany October 8-9.

In March 19-21, 2015 he will once again be at the benefit auction and sale for the Charlie Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana. In Paris, France he will have an exhibition entitles, “Shields, Drums and Masks” at Gallery Orenda, 54 rue de Ver Neuil.

Kevin Red Star

this photo of Kevin has appeared in magazines and newspapers and truly represents the gentle, sensitive and available nature of the man I have met and spoken with on several occasions.

one example of Kevin’s use of the traditional tipi of the Crow as a design element in his paintings. You can visit his Facebook page and see many more of his paintings, and also visit his website to read more of his story and see the work he currently has for sale. kevinredstar.com

Kevin Red Star is a contemporary painter, a member of the Crow Tribe and a man with a fine, gentle and caring demeanor. His skill as an artist reaches out to people from all walks of life and in his work it is my belief that folks are able to see his story and that of the Crow Nation.

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4 Responses to “Carrying the story of his ancestors to the canvas, by Kristin McNamara Freeman”


  1. 1 snicklefritzin43 October 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Clairan,
    Kevin has a wonderful collection of his work on his website, kevinredstar.com, and also on his Facebook page. It is always my delight to read about artists “new to me” on the Cafe – it is one of the delights of this venue, for sure.

  2. 2 clairan October 1, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Kristin I enjoyed this post about an artist previously unknown to me. I’d line to see more of his work.

  3. 3 snicklefritzin43 September 30, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Olga. In my years of following Kevin Red Star as an artist I have learned so much about the challenge it was and perhaps still is for native people to have a “face” in the art world outside of the Indian art market. His staying true to his heritage in the images he uses in his work which is created in the same art studio media used by folks around the world is surely central to what is his story as an artist.

  4. 4 olganorris September 30, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Kristin thank you for this introduction. I find his work dramatic, decorative, and thought-provoking. I find myself having mixed emotions when I view work that has a mix of tradition with what I describe to myself as white-world-sentiment – never quite knowing if the latter is a kind of misplaced guilt within myself, or what.
    I like these paintings and I find them powerful both as compositions and as a source of unease within myself. But it is good to think about work which stirs up conflict within oneself, so thanks.


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