Monday, September 17, 2007

Larry McNeil "First Light, Winter Solstice" Lithograph (artist's statement)

Here is my lithograph titled First Light, Winter Solstice, with the artist's Statement written for the piece. The lithograph was made at the Tamarind Art Institute early this summer as part of the Arts in Embassies Project sponsored by the State Department to get American artist's works into the American Embassies around the world.

I teach a component on how to write artist's statements for both our undergrads and Master of Fine Arts Graduate students. I point out to them that artist's statements simply share meaning with the viewers and many museums and gallerys need them for the public. This piece was a good example because the curators requested one as part of the contract.

The image is from my website at

Artist's Statement for First Light, Winter Solstice

I love the idea of making art that was designed to act so specifically as an ambassador for our people. I was thinking of who we really are as Americans, both Indigenous and the proverbial “melting pot” that forms our collective identity. I was thinking of early Cowboy and Indian films that formed the world's perception of who we are, especially as a mythical place.

I wanted a heroic Raven pictograph for the background because he is from our own creation story and frequently amuses himself with the often-subliminal nature of a quasi-educator, a poetic rascal. Something is a bit amiss though; the bottom of the pictograph is pixilated. The image of the Indians riding their horses into the sunrise has them taking a fleeting look at a weathered “Rez car.” A Rez car is often old and beat up, sometimes barely running, sometimes trying to blend back into the earth. Rez cars have become part of our identity. This image is a revised mythological view of Indians because it includes a Rez car and is not the romanticized view of Indians as being a vanishing race.

The sepia tone is important because it references a stereotype that is updated for the 21 st Century. A lot of the photographs of Indians (made by non-Indians) in the 19th and 20th centuries are romanticized sepia views whose implied message has us as being from the past and certainly not the present. By using this sepia toned photograph I am playing with the perception that Indians are only in the past and bringing them right into the present, and doing it with a bit of a sly joke that we can chuckle about. If we can take outdated stereotypical ideas and laugh about them, we acknowledge that they were indeed a bit absurd and we can move on in a good way.    

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