Art chose me: I’m an American Indian, and Indians make stuff. My father carved. My mother painted. when I was five, I’d go up and down the street trying to sell my small paintings. By high school, I was full-scale artist selling my pieces at the shopping malls.
I spent millions of hours in museums copying the great artists. The security guards at the National Gallery voted me the artist who could best do Rembrandt. Artists in the National Gallery, like Rembrandt, are super-geniuses and we are way out there. They benchmarks for me. Part of the reason I came to Washington was because it is the most important city in the world; from Washington we can and have destroyed nations. Part of my art thing was to try to humanize people. Unfortunately, they’re not fanning the flames of creativity in Washington. There is tons of dough here but very little interest in art. Artists are treated as lightweights.
Much of my work is political and socialistic but incorporates classical art traditions of still life color, and portraiture. In the 60’s, my still life studies of oranges were done as a meditation on form and color, but they were also my tributes to the Mexican migrant workers making less than $1.00 a day selling oranges on the highway.
Through the use of icons as subjects, I see myself as a painter of American history through the use of icons. My paintings of American heroes such as George Washington, Lincoln, and JFK are stand-ins for much more. These American heroes I once looked up to, but the more I read, themore they all seemed to have more than a little blood on their hands.
I lived in modern art history. I argued about art with Julian Schnable. I painted for Gene Davis and Tom Downing. I hung out with Rivers, Rauschenberg, and Warhol.
After Warhol, who produced a shorthand version of art, you didn’t have to worry about composition or any of the basics. In the beginning, most artists considered Warhol an airhead. But influential critics turned his work into a super interllectual comment on the ’60s and ‘0s. That’s what can happen to art. Like Warhol said, “If it sells, it’s art.” The art market has turned into the stock market.
Now I’m up in my years. The scene today is totally different. But most people who will go for my work aren’t even been born yet. If was the same for Van Gogh and a lot of other great artists. There’s a great tradition that goes back to Titian and Giovanni Bellini. It’s a torch that gets passed. I don’t think I’ll make it to that level, but I try to keep the artistic torch going. It’smy compulsion. Some people get into Jesus and go to church. My church is art; it’s a sacred trust. I’m competing with the ages now, not with the artists of the moment.