Interviews By Larry Abbott

Bob Haozous


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Although some of Bob Haozous' early sculpture bears a resemblance to the work of his father (the late Allan Houser), he has actually followed his own vision. Where Freedom Man (1978) and White Stele (1975) have suggestions of Houser, with figures emerging from stone and a focus on the female figure, for example, the faces and forms, and the use of the nude figure, marks these as works by Haozous. His 1975 standing nude carved from walnut, New Image, declares his own approach to his work, and presages such works as Madonna of the West (1981), which itself prefigures much of Haozous' characteristic imagery. Done in hinged pine panels, the nearly five-foot high figure is surrounded by inset hearts, stars, and cowboys on horseback.

As Haozous moved exclusively into steel, his work became larger and his imagery more diverse, still maintaining his environmental and political concerns but with occasional humor, some of it bitter, as in Apache Pull-Toy (1988), which depicts a somewhat paunchy painted-steel cowboy kneeling on one knee on a small cart with a rope attached, six-guns drawn. The figure is riddled with bullet holes. In Santa Fe Table (1989) identically-shaped coyotes on the top of a steel table howl around a saguaro cactus. These are countered by a more feral (yet chained) coyote, whose shape actually forms the base of the table (and to which are attached dollar signs). This work pointedly comments on the commercialization of the art scene in Santa Fe (where a popular bumper sticker reads "Help Stamp Out Coyote Art").

The cowboy figure, and what the "cowboy" represents, is a recurrent image in Haozous' work. His 1994 exhibition, entitled Haozous Does Chickens, includes, in addition to 72 hand-painted steel chickens, large painted-steel cutouts of a head-dressed and tomahawk-wielding warrior on horseback facing off against an armed cowboy. What adds another layer of complexity to this work is the "pedestal" on which the sculptures are mounted: each figure is mounted atop the steel plate from which the other painted image was cut, creating an interplay between negative and positive space. Additionally, the bottom images face in opposite directions. Another facet of the installation was a Zelig or Forrest Gump-like photocollage framed in steel, with Haozous posed shoulder to shoulder with John Wayne. A similarly-framed mirror near the collage returns to the viewer his or her own image.

Haozous' concerns about the state of the Earth are evident in numerous works which create artificial environments as a way of drawing attention to pollution and other destructive practices. Haozous has created small clouds cast in concrete and then painted white; Sun/Rain Shield, a work installed on the grounds of The Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, has a blue sky painted on a part of its steel underside. Haozous boldest work in this area was his 1992 Artificial Cloud, installed in downtown Tulsa. Seventy-two and one-half feet tall, the work was created on the premise that more people would look at a naturally-rusting steel cloud than at the real thing.

Most of Haozous' works make strong political or environmental statements, but his 1994 Steelhenge may be his strongest statement yet. Installed on the grounds of the College of Santa Fe and formed in a 97 foot circle, the exhibition contains ten diverse works arranged around an eleventh, Earth Wagon. The works represent the range of Haozous' vision, and include The Discoverer (1991) and Apache Holocaust Memorial (1993) as well as Figure Study #17 (1990) and Zen Form V (1987). About his work Haozous has said that he "tries to deal honestly with reality in my art and that reality encompasses both ugliness and beauty. I love the land and I love people and I hope that my work symbolizes this in my own individual way. My art is contemporary because I live in the present -- but also adhere to the belief that one should be inner-directed and that art should reflect its pure source -- the soul of its creator." 1

Haozous continued his multi-piece exhibitions with the 1995 installation SITE Haozous on the grounds of the Wheelwright. Deliberately designed as a counterpoint to the SITE Santa Fe exhibition, Haozous included many of the works from the College of Santa Fe, but added a new piece, Mother. This large work contained moveable parts utilizing cables and pulleys so the viewer could raise and lower the arms of the figure. About the work Haozous wrote that "dominance over nature is the subject matter of this artwork. The symbolic Mother (Earth) is available for public manipulation, much like contemporary man's philosophy toward the earth. The female figures of this work are intentionally exposed, sexualized, and thereby degraded." 2 As an added twist to the show, Haozous put twenty-eight small wooden Mother Earth Realty Signs advertising lots for sale around the Wheelwright. To his not unexpected dismay, some people thought they could actually buy a plot of Wheelwright Museum land.

I talked with Bob periodically from 1994-1997 in various places in Santa Fe. This interview is a composite of these conversations.

LA: After you complete a show do you tend to take it easy for a while?

BH: No, I usually go into a depression. I put so much energy and dreams, I guess, into these shows that it takes about a week to come out of it, unless I have other work to do.

LA: How many pieces were in the 1994 show, Haozous Does Chickens?

BH: We did seventy-two chickens; actually there were seventy-two plus four other pieces, and one major piece.

LA: Your yearly exhibitions are usually in mid-August. What's your process of working toward getting a show ready? Do you start at a particular time or does the idea germinate for a while?

BH: I usually spend a year. As soon as I finish a show, I start planning the next show and looking for symbols or statements, and just leave it open until literally the last month before the show. Then I compile all these ideas and try to make a statement.

LA: Environmental concerns have been a major part of your work for quite some time. How does your work function to establish these concerns?

BH: Well, most of my work is environmentally-directed, or at least deals with the ignorance that makes us who we are, the insensitive people we are. I mean, there are enough Indian artists dealing with the beauty of Indian people and enough non-Indian artists dealing with the concept of beauty. But I consider that just a form of interior decoration. I always considered the artist's role to be the primary tool for self-reflection of a people. And in doing that, he would have to put everything that he sees in front of people, from the most beautiful to the most ugly. And if people are behaving irresponsibly, an artist should portray it, especially if he's a part of it. And we all, all Americans, are certainly a part of the system. For example, we will fight to maintain our level of convenience and yet we'll still feel bad about poor people across the border in Mexico. I mean, we have this conflict of statement that doesn't bear out. Those conflicts need to be shown.

LA: You mentioned once that "the trouble is right now 99% of Native American art is made for non-Indian consumption. When all artists are reduced to being craftsmen based on an outside standard, what you have left is an unhealthy art form." Do you see your work as countering that?

BH: I don't think my work tries to counter that, but what it does, what I'm trying to do, is reveal what has happened to Native American people by the oppression that they're undergoing and how we are changing, how we romanticize and put ourselves on pedestals because of our ancestors' behavior and don't really look at ourselves today. In most of the galleries, you see an image of Indians that's untrue. It doesn't include who we really are, and in a lot of ways, very unhealthy: alcoholism, violence, poverty, suicide, political problems, loss of land, religion, and language. It's all continuing today, but here in Santa Fe, especially, if you look at the image Indians project, it's this beautiful image of the past, of our ancestors who in reality weren't having such a great time themselves.

LA: Could we talk about one of your installations, Steelhenge, on the campus of the College of Santa Fe. How did you put that together? How did the individual pieces interrelate to the overall concept?

BH: I've always wanted to put my works together in a public space, and they offered it. They were kind enough to give me a major space where people could view the work easily. The Steelhenge show is a complex show. It is a compilation of 11 pieces that are not really directly related, but the concept comes from things I've learned about witchcraft, the things I've learned about the pagan religions of Europe -- the pre-Christian religions, the Celtic religions -- and the idea that people who come to Indians come to get not only the craftsmanship or beauty they produce, but also to get some kind of wisdom or earth awareness, because in America we were told to divorce ourselves from that responsibility or that wisdom. So all these things came together. I was taught to observe, I don't know who taught me, but it's critical, it's good. That's the role of an artist. Maybe that's an idealistic way to live your life, to be able to criticize, but I think the responsibility of an artist is to see and portray who he is. And so Steelhenge is really an offshoot of the Celtic religion at Stonehenge. It showed me that at one time those people had a Mother Earth, an earth-related religion that tied them directly to the earth. There was a time when man was a part of nature and not dominant, so I decided I'd go ahead and make a Steelhenge, a version of Stonehenge, to remind the people who see it that they have a living earth or Mother Earth concept like Native Americans. I wanted to raise the question: Why come to Native Americans for your Mother Earth when you have your own? That's basically what it was about.

LA: Did you do any new pieces for that show, or were they all older pieces that were configured in the new space?

BH: Most of them are older pieces, but some were just recently finished. It just happened at the right time when I had a bunch of pieces that were available. One piece that's brand new is the Earth Wagon. It's in the center. I don't know whether it's a caisson, a coffin, or a wagon with a coffin on it. That I made especially for the show. It's full of red earth to show the death of the earth. Most of the pieces are about death or destruction. Really, the whole show is about death. Later on I changed that coffin. I filled it with a tree trunk because wood is a symbol of the earth as much as dirt is, and then I put images of people from every race around the wagon because we are all trying so hard to become modern people that we are denying, forgetting, the responsibilities to the survival of the earth, Native Americans included. I included Native Americans and Chinese and Mexicans and Blacks, everybody. It just is a statement of what's going to happen to the earth if we don't alter our religious and political views, our basic viewpoint of a living earth as opposed to a dead earth.

LA: The center piece, and also Apache Holocaust Memorial, have objects behind glass, so if you take a close look at the work, there are things behind the surface. In the Apache Holocaust Memorial you have crosses behind the glass.

BH: The Holocaust piece is really a statement about the death of my tribe. Everybody in my tribe realizes that within 20 years we're going to be gone. This is an entire tribe of Warm Springs-Chiricahua Apache people from Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. They covered millions of acres of land. Now we have 70-something acres that we bought. We have no reservation land, no tribal land, and no private land in our homeland, except four acres in Arizona that some nice man gave to us out of guilt, a guilt that we respect, don't get me wrong. But the fourteen skulls inside the columns and the seven windows are a reflection of the seven generations into the future that are dead -- the adults and the children. That's an issue that really bothers me because our tribe has gone from a tribe that was well aware of its seven generations' responsibility to a two-generation people like the American people. I've been analyzing for a long time what happened to the American people and to the world: Why did we start worshiping ourselves as a separate entity from the earth, rather than retaining the power, the beauty or the position of the earth in our lives? There are so many answers -- technology, self-worship, religion -- and all these things come into play, but it's not my job to offer solutions, but to make observations. So my tribe has gone through that whole thing, from a people whose first basis was the awareness of a tribe, of the people first, or the earth first, and a long-range viewpoint of the past and the future, to a people that are thinking of the earth as a two-generation place where we can use and manipulate and make money and not worry about our great-grandchildren. Consequently, our tribe is flirting with nuclear waste and chemical waste now -- we call them environmental depositories or something like that -- but it's all the same thing. We've lost our relationship to our future and to the earth. As human beings, we all have to get that back, but it means sacrifice, sacrifice of conveniences. So I put these people inside the column in a form of death because that's what's going to happen. Also inside the box is an Apache God-symbol that's been encased. You can see it through glass like in a museum, and it's ineffective and it has to be released. On the surface are the names of all the families of Warm Springs-Chiricahua people.

LA: In addition to that piece, you've also included The Discoverer from '92. When it was first exhibited there was graffiti sprayed on it. Did people misunderstand what the work was all about?

BH: Yeah. I think that was done by a younger person, that's my guess. I hope so anyhow. I would be interested if it was an older person, but there was a lesbian symbol painted on it and the writing said: "Cultur rapist" . . . "cultur" . . . "culture" was spelled wrong. But it was like putting a sign of the same thing on what I was talking about. The piece talked about cultural rape, and I think whoever did it was angry because they thought that the statement was about the glorification of the Spaniards, as opposed to the reality of what they did, and I think the person who saw the figure of the mounted Spaniard forgot about the reality that I was also portraying, and made a statement about exactly what I was talking about. And that was good; it didn't bother me. In fact, I was going to hire a graffiti artist to help because they did such a bad job. I wanted to continue covering it, but I didn't.

LA: You've also done what you call Zen Forms. These are coming from a different place.

BH: The Zen Forms came from a time when I was studying Buddhism. I started trying to make objects for myself and they really weren't directed toward sales in any way -- I found a big pipe, and I just started figuring out how to cut it up, and we cut it up and made a big doughnut. Everybody calls them doughnuts, but they really have to do with meditation, focal points. I noticed when I was doing archery, I knew where my arrow was going to hit, what it was going to do, before I let it go. I never could understand that. I guess a true Zen person would try to understand what's going on, but I never understood, I just knew that something happened that I didn't understand. I wanted to make something that related to it, so I made this bull's-eye or doughnut shape. It also came directly from previous stone carvings where I would do a buffalo and put a bullet hole in the center. It looked a lot like a doughnut, but people wouldn't see the bullet hole as a bullet hole. They saw it as a decorative piercing or something. It really was a symbol of violence and death. I made seven or eight of the Zen Forms, I guess, and not one of them sold. They were on the market, I wanted them sold, but that was okay because I didn't make them for anyone but myself. They're still scattered around here and there.

LA: Much of your work has a highly political dimension, but you do have the Zen Forms and then you also have some more delicate types of pieces, the small floating women. Do you have two aspects to your work, the more political and issue-oriented and then some that are more meditative?

BH: My female figures are kind of deceiving. A lot of people look at my work and they don't realize that there's a statement. They just wonder what I'm saying and then they walk on. It's like television -- you walk by and you see it on, you like it or you don't like it, you sit and watch it or you turn it off or change channels. That's what my work really represents to most people. My female imagery comes from a desecrated or obscene Mother Earth image. The pieces you're referring to are a portrait of a friend who is about as feminine and sweet as you can imagine; yet, by American standards, she doesn't have the wide hips and big breasts, the small waist and the blond hair. She doesn't have any of that. I've portrayed her as being androgenous, as being neutral, trying to show the forced neutrality of the earth, and what we've done to the earth. On the other hand, I do portray buxom women to show that we've sexualized Mother Earth. I try to overexpose and put the figure in awkward positions so that people feel awkward when they look at it, or think it's humorous. They've taken a symbol of beauty themselves and made it obscene. That's what I'm trying to do. I was trying to parallel it to my Mother Earth statement and maybe I failed because I also enjoy doing the female nude. It's always been a challenge and I've always enjoyed it. That's what they're about; they're not whimsical in any sense, I guess, like my artificial clouds, which show the destruction of the earth. I did a show on the environment, where we painted the walls and all that and people would come in and say, "You must be very happy." And what I did, I succeeded so well that people felt good in the space. They didn't realize that I was talking about how we want to control nature, want to dominate nature so much that we destroy it to put an artificial nature in, like Disneyland, and so you feel good there, but it's not real. There's no insects, there's no real life; there's no pain or sweat. It's just prettified nature.

I did a show once of all women, and a lady came in and said, "Why do you do all women?" It bothered me, so I stopped doing women, and did only men for about a year, or a balance: man-woman, man-woman. And then I slowly realized that I liked doing women. I like looking at women. I like using the form for drawing. I have a hard time with men because they're angular and I like the smooth curves to sculpture. That's my problem, though. And I emphasize problem, because it's something that you can overcome, because you can draw anything with equal fluidity if you want to, but I prefer to do women. And it reminds me of something my father said when I was younger. I asked him why he does Navajos, since we're Apaches. And he said, "Because I want to." I realized that's a prerogative of an artist. You do what you want to do and if anybody says you're supposed to do a certain thing, then you're accepting a restriction. And, God knows, there are enough restrictions on artists, even in the tools and the materials we use. There's no such thing as a free, totally liberated artist. We're all restricted. So aside from that, I've been trying to use the female form as a very general Mother Earth statement. But I also try to use Father statements. I want to tie it in because I think that the earth is neither. It's male-female. It's giving and taking. It's right here. And it's all alive. I don't think it was ever thought of as being a woman by Native Americans. Maybe it was. It doesn't matter. It's my interpretation. Europeans sexualize it even though Native European religions had the Mother Earth concept, a pre-Christian concept, that was directly parallel to Native America. But to sexualize the Mother Earth takes away from its strength and makes it a dishonest image. And that's why I use it a lot.

LA: If we could switch channels for a minute, you've had a few joint shows with your father. What has been your relationship with him in terms of the development of your art?

BH: You can't deny our relationship. I've always admired what he does and stand back in awe of his work and his talents. But other than that, the first thing you have to realize is every human being is unique. One of the things Indian artists do is they show a stylized period. It's usually the reservation period, or 1860s to 1880s, or 1900. They show a style of dress as if nothing happened before, or portray a world where Indians always had horses, which they didn't always have. Horses were only here for a short period of time. So I realize that my father's life experiences are totally different than mine. To emulate him would be totally dishonest, and I think he knows that if I emulate him, it would be totally dishonest. I know, or I suspect, that I could probably make a lot of money and make a lot of statements. But it wouldn't be mine. It would be his. It would be a reflection of him and there's a certain dishonesty in reflecting your father or your father reflecting his father. Or your children reflecting you unless they can take it and go somewhere else. And that's what I kind of did. I took all this input from knowing my father, all the art books he had and all the artists he knew and I just used it to focus on who I am.

LA: You had a work in Tulsa called Artificial Cloud. It's a site-specific work. Was it meant to rust intentionally? Could you talk about how that work came about?

BH: It's seventy-two and a half feet tall, but it wasn't made to erode or rust. It's more like there was an intentional effort not to preserve it. And that's a major thing. That's an important statement because steel rusts and if you try to keep it from rusting, you're going against nature. But that's okay, you know, you can make things last forever if you want to. But my statement was not to preserve it but to leave it as it was because it's going to rust anyway. It's one of man's tools and it's guaranteed to disappear in a thousand or two thousand years. There are many meanings in that piece, but its primary statement comes from an idea I've been thinking about for a long time. And that is, in the future, we're going to have to make our environments. We're going to pollute the earth and the sky so much that we have to either move underground or into dome-type buildings and pump in purified air so we can breathe. So I've gradually been going into the direction of making artificial nature. I'm thinking about doing a huge artificial tree with no branches, just a huge stump maybe a hundred and fifty feet tall to make the same statement. Right now we see a tree in front of us covered with leaves. In a hundred years, we might be worshiping this tree as a stump, as a memory. And that's my statement. It's a slap in people's faces. In Oklahoma the governor, or mayor, or somebody, said, "We like your statement. Luckily, here in Oklahoma we have clear, blue skies." But the ozone problem is international. Everybody's going to be affected by this. I mean, if you get seriously involved with the environment, then you have to become involved, and not just doing do-gooder things. I talked to a lady on the plane the other day when I was going somewhere, I can't remember where, and she was working in the forests in Colorado. She said that her job is to study the effects of Los Angeles' pollution on the forests in Colorado. That's incredible. I mean, just think, it's here! If you look at the sunsets in New Mexico they're not as pure as they were ten years ago. And that's pollution from either California or Mexico.

In America, this concept of bigger is better is an important thing to remember when it comes to marketing but I don't care about that. But I do realize that you can do a sculpture and put it in a small gallery and it's beautiful. You can put it outside and it becomes small. It's dwarfed by nature. You put it next to a building, and it's even more dwarfed. And if an artist truly is the person who society designates to reflect who we are, what he has to say should be as big or as large or small as any other object that man makes. And that's the way I look at it. So my pieces don't get bigger. They fit into the environment better. And so it doesn't matter whether I carve really small, something to hold in my hand, or put something in a gallery that fits in a gallery scene, or work outside. I try to make the piece fit the area it works in. And if it's perceived large by somebody else, well, that's all right. I'm not separate from this earth or from the air or the water. It's all a part of me. And the same with art. Art should be a part of what's around it and not just some little jewel set in a pile of trash. We're so trained to look at this little jewel in a pile of trash and not relate to the huge or ugly or stylized buildings that are around it, that really are meaningless buildings. They're just meaningless. That's the size the artist should've been making his work in because that's a reflection of man. If you look at it that way, of course, my pieces are real big. My pieces are getting bigger or they're large or whatever words fit. But if you don't look at it that way, my pieces are terribly undersized.

LA: On the grounds of the Wheelwright in Santa Fe you installed the steel umbrella, and on the underside you have clouds and planes. Were these three pieces related, the concrete clouds, the artificial cloud, and the umbrella?

BH: Oh, yeah. At a certain point I began to realize that if things go as they are, children are going to have to live in an artificial environment because they won't be able to breathe the air or they won't be able to tolerate the sun or they won't be able to drink the water or use the land. They'll have to prepare their own space to live in, so I've been making more and more artificial environments. The problem is, they're so pleasing that people like them as artificial space and maybe that's just a reflection of who we are or what we've come to accept. We'll accept the artificial over nature any day now. Myself included.

LA: Some of your work has an ironic or humorous dimension, like Apache Pull-Toy, which has a painted steel cutout of a cowboy with bullet holes in it. Your portrait of David Rettig [owner of David Rettig Fine Arts in Santa Fe, Haozous' gallery until it closed in 1995] looked a little bit like Apache Pull-Toy with the bullet holes and the coloration. How does this kind of whimsicality or ironic humor function in your work?

BH: I've always considered humor to be a more than just making somebody laugh or entertaining somebody. I think that humor is a very serious tool. I once read that to Native American people, ridicule was a very serious form of education. It had a very important role besides simply getting a laugh. They used ridicule as a form of social control, from extreme banishment to very subtle things. But instead of chopping somebody's head off or using a guillotine or something like that, they had other ways of dealing with people which were much more practical and seemed to be much more honest. So I try to use humor to get past barriers. All people have humor but I also am most familiar with Native American humor and I realize it's one of the many ways of reflecting a culture. For most people, if you say, "a political Indian artist," they'll turn around and walk away. They don't want to hear it. They don't want to hear any of the things that make them feel guilty for what their forefathers have done or they themselves are doing. They don't want to hear it so they'll walk away. So I use humor to draw them in and I make basically the same statement. If you can get people's attention by making them have a bitter, bloody laugh, it's much better, and much more fun for me, too. I know how to carve, I know how to do all that other stuff, I learned how do it, we all learn how to do that, but that's kind of boring because with humor, you can go any direction you want, and people can take it any direction they want, and they don't really take you seriously as an individual. I don't want to be taken seriously as an individual. I'd rather have my issues be taken seriously. I think it has much more effect on people if they don't take you that seriously.

LA: You are generally considered a sculptor, and you have used all sorts of different materials, wood, alabaster, and stone, but do you now use steel exclusively?

BH: At a certain point I realized that stone just wasn't doing it for me. I love stone, I love the three-dimensional form, but I think it happened when I went through St. Louis and I saw the beautiful arch and I realized that here's man worshiping man again, man dominating nature, man controlling natural substances. It's an engineering feat that's marvelous; you just have to stop and look. At the same time, what does it say except, "aren't we great!" And we're not great. We have a long way to go. We don't even know who we are or what we're doing. We don't know what we're doing to other people to maintain our level of convenience.

We should all be acknowledging that fact. It should be taught in school: Look how immoral we were to the Native Americans. Look how immoral we were to the Black people for our convenience. Look how our religion was really just a tool for our greed and our need for convenience; indigenous people were used and abused and dominated and now we curse the future of our children. Every art work in this world should be talking about that every day. Every artist should go to the studio and say I don't want this situation. I have to bring it to light because those issues are concerned with a basic philosophy we should have about the future and yet nobody cares because we are a two-generation people, all we care about are our children. You give them a good insurance policy and maybe let them have the family jewels when you die, you're okay, you made it, you're going to Heaven, you're separated from this place. When two old Apache men were interviewed around the turn of the century, one man said: "Heaven is a happy place" -- the white man would term it "Happy Hunting Grounds" -- and the other person said: "It's a place like this and this is Heaven." To me this is Heaven; there's no after-life. If there is, we'll come back here. We're a part of this. That's beautiful, that's common sense; yet we as Americans have lost our common-sense approach to life. We depend on technology; consequently, the St. Louis arch uses technology to make our beauty for us. Any engineering student could have proposed that in any school, but why wasn't the arch talking about a future of no air, no land, and no water for our children, and that we, everyone of us, are responsible? Why doesn't art do that? What has our art become? We are the people that have the ability and knowledge to bring about environmental awareness, yet we've been so beaten down that all we care about is the money and entertaining white people. Black people dance and Indian people make art. That's a gross racist statement that we haven't even come to deal with ourselves. So that's why I went into steel. You can't do this with stone. You can carve up a mountain like Borglum in South Dakota; with steel you can make a big piece that makes a political statement. I found out that given the simplicity of the American people, big is better. In school, we used to argue that issue: Is big better? You kind of looked down on people who made a big piece because they're trying to get attention, or they thought it was better aesthetics or something. I'm beginning to realize the ignorance of the viewer is important, and that big is better to the viewer and so, why not make big pieces that aren't really works of great sensitivity to line and shape and color like we're supposed to do? Just put it out there, dump it in front of their faces and they'll respect it. And they do. The first thing they say is, "How long did it take you to make it?" or "How much did it cost?" or "How much does it weigh?" I mean, it's all this value system that has nothing to do with anything real. We'll go back to the self-portrait show at Dave's gallery. The other self-portrait I did was a mirror. The other artists in the show, I waited until the last moment and watched what other people brought in, did drawings of themselves, a very Euro-American concept, a portrait of yourself. Otherwise, you believe that an artist is a portrait of the people he comes from, the environment he's in, the time of his life, and so I put a mirror in there and I chose the chicken symbol because, as we know, the chicken's a very timid creature. Once the axe is raised, it's every chicken for himself, which is kind of funny. The chicken symbol is funny and it draws people to it but the statement is deadly serious. It's that we've become the chickens of the world, the big brothers of this world who are dominating environmental resources. Economically and monetarily we are the cowards of our own future. So I chose the chicken and I chose John Wayne because obviously he's the ultimate white chicken. That piece inspired me to do the show of the the seventy-two chickens. Seventy-two is an arbitrary number. The two large figures in the front of the gallery, the Indian and the white man with the chicken shield and the chicken shirt, is really just a humorous way of giving attention to our own cowardice.

LA: Your show in 1993 was entitled The Vanishing Buffalo. This show also had multiple pieces of the same basic image?

BH: The Vanishing Buffalo show was a hundred pieces. Each one was hand-cut and shot with a rifle. We shot them at the last minute and then plated them and put them out. What I wanted to do in that show was to give the viewers an object that they could afford. And not only that, I could have sold those for about $500 a piece and made a pretty good profit. The art gallery wanted to make some money, naturally, and we started discussing price. The first thing I said $300 and they said no, we can get $500; then I said $400, $350, and they kept arguing with me. They didn't realize what I wanted to say, because that wasn't important. Finally after we argued so long I said: Okay, let's go down to $250 and they realized it was either $250 or $200 or $150 so they said, "Okay, okay." They left me alone from then on. So we put a ridiculous price on it to draw people into the statement, and we videoed what was going on. When we opened the show, the people were just milling around, changing tags, and stealing other people's pieces and arguing and fighting, one person threatened to break the camera, and it was just a beautiful portrait of our greed, because my statement was about how we participated in the destruction of the buffalo by our behavior today. We are the same immoral people that destroyed the Native American people and the buffalo and here's our greed right in front of us. We're stealing these steel buffalo; we're taking this herd of a limited number of a hundred and hoarding it and taking it home and we don't realize we're participating in the vanishing buffalo herd.

LA: Two earlier pieces of yours from I thought were very powerful: Border Crossing [1991] and The Vanishing White Man. Would you talk about each of those?

BH: Border Crossing was really a state of artificial nature. There was no hope in that piece except in the heart-shaped lock -- and it was locked. The door is closed. America will kill before it will give its conveniences up. The Haitians and Cubans are trying to get in because they know that we're hoarding everything and they want part of it. It's human nature. Border Crossing really is about how we've set up these barriers to ourselves: the separation in skin color, the separation in race, the separation in religion. I think if it really came to a major serious issue in this world, we would run to Canada rather than run to Mexico because they have dark skin down there and they're mixed with the Indians. We're so obviously racist in this country that we've set up invisible barriers between ourselves and other people. And yet, you can let a token person in and we treat him like a king. In Utah, where I lived, the white people didn't like Indians, but they liked Indian land and they liked the Indian soul, so to speak, but the time the Japanese farmers came in the people loved them because, for some reason, they were neutral. I don't know why, perhaps because there were so few of them. We have this power over nature, this dominance over other men or lesser creatures, as the Germans say "untermenchen," sub-humans. Some people are sub-humans to us so we can kill tens of thousands in Iraq and not blink an eye, hang up a yellow ribbon and call our boys great warriors when actually all they did was depend on technology. This God of Technology is really a million times more valuable to American people, or modern man, than these so-called ancient gods that they've been worshiping for so long. All these issues are involved in Border Crossing: I have a cross, I have an airplane, I have bullet holes, and barbed wire to show the resistance to change.

The Vanishing White Man series comes from years and years of thinking about how we Americans have become the major polluter of the world, while three-quarters, or more like nine-tenths, of the world, are living in substandard conditions. It's something that has to end. That's directly involved in my statement in The Vanishing White Man. And in the white man portrait, I intentionally put in Black, Hispanic, Oriental and then Native American people to show that it's really not racial. It's a philosophical issue that comes directly from western Europe, directly from this progression from earth-related concepts to man-related concepts, and we're destroying everything around us because we refuse to alter or give up our conveniences. The whole series is about the white man, and I include myself because I'm a polluter, too, vanishing from a situation that we've created. I mean, we've destroyed things so bad that we're going to cause our own deaths. We're going to make ourselves vanish from the scene.

LA: The faces are like profile portraits in steel.

BH: It's one big plate with the face cut out of it, and the face is set behind the steel and the steel has earth images, symbols of organized religion and economics -- the dollar sign -- and the face is painted much like something were decorated. It's painted realistically but it is separated from the plane of reality. That's what it's about.

I don't go into the studio with preconceived ideas, but I do know that most artists don't like to expose the weaknesses in themselves. It's kind of this personality cult that shows the artist as this radical, creative being. Most people don't want to stray from that, but I think that's really unimportant. I really think that an artist has a very profound role in society and what I do is often times self-insulting because I acknowledge my English blood and my Spanish blood, my Navaho and Apache blood. But I can't say I'm Apache and not at the same time think of the other bloodlines. And I can't say one is bad and one is good. There's mutual ignorance in all of them but what I do see is that Native Americans have a way of looking at the earth that is based on a common sense approach, whereas the European or American approach is really based on self-worship and technological dominance, from my point of view. And a lot of my work is really from that basic concept. We are worshipping ourselves, the dishonest portrait of ourselves, and we're destroying our future and our children's future.

LA: The pieces we've been talking about, like Border Crossing, Apache Skull, and The Discoverer have a violent or brutal feel. You use bullet holes in quite a few of your works.

BH: You know, when I first saw the bullet hole, I liked it. I live out in the West and you see what cowboys and insensitive people do to roadsides and everything else. I was in Los Alamos at the research labs and saw some of the Star Wars technology of shooting plastic cubes through solid blocks of twelve-inch steel, at something like six times the speed of a deer rifle. It amazed me that a little piece of plastic that weighs a couple ounces could go through steel. But what's really fascinating is that this metal, it's so hard, all of a sudden it turns liquid just for a billionth of a second. That's one of the aspects that fascinated me, and the aspect of violence, perceived violence, the idea of a bullet striking flesh. I've done a lot of shooting and I like all of my guns and stuff. I never, ever pointed a gun at anybody except in the American military, but there's some kind of a power in that too, and I love it. I love to get a simple tool like an airplane or a car, and use that tool, even though it's very trite because the impact of the statement is directly related to the impact of the bullet on the steel. It really is a strong tool to use, and frightening. It has to do with death.

LA: There's something about Apache Skull, where a stainless steel skull is mounted above a drawer filled with shell casings. Given the various sources for your work, do you consider yourself an "Indian artist"?

BH: First of all, I consider art to be a cultural reflection and anything other than that isn't art. I don't care if it's the so-called finest European art in New York or Western art, it still comes from a cultural basis. And so from that sense, I'm an Indian artist and I have no choice. And that's where my humor and that's where my intelligence comes from, years behind me, from, you know, heredity, and it leads to my children. And I accept the responsibility of being an Indian artist.

But in terms of politics, let's go from another viewpoint. Look at Indian artists and look at Indian people. You have a people who have some of the most serious problems in the world, alcoholism, suicide, drugs, violence, poverty, lack of education, you name it, and then look at their art and you see very little honest self-reflection. It's mostly an art form directed to a naive, ignorant and ill-educated public. That's the white people. Very little Indian art is made for Indian people or for Indian consumption. But one hundred years ago or so all Indian art was made for Indian consumption, except for a few people in the Southwest. At one time, all Indian art was a cultural reflection for themselves. Today, it's not. It's a pseudo-cultural reflection for a naive, buying public. But if Indian people were healthy people, I would suspect that the majority of artists would put a political bent in their statement because it's so honest and so realistic to look at your life and see the positive and the negative. And how can you paint the beauty and not paint the beast? It's been said that Europeans have a vertical ascension concept where God is on the top, followed by royalty, and you proceed downward. But Native Americans have a horizontal movement where everything comes from the center. You have a positive and a negative, while Europeans have a good and a bad, always going for the good and trying to ignore the bad. Native Americans consider the "bad" a very important and healthy thing, a part of life. And in the arts, I would assume that same thing would be true, but it's not true today. So I think what I'm doing is only what other people would be doing if they were healthy. Not that I'm healthy, but I do think it's a responsibility that we can't overlook.

LA: You call some of your pieces portable, like Portable Madonna. They are on wheels and on stands. Is that the machinery aspect of your work?

BH: Not really. I honor people who can use machines in their art 'cause I can't. I don't have that kind of mind. I don't have that aptitude. But I really would like to design a building that walks. That's one of my goals --a huge building that walks over the environment and leaves only little footprints so you can't tell where man has been except by these little footprints. Basically, everything comes back to the artificial environment statement, so eventually we won't be able to touch the soil or the sky; we'll have to isolate it or separate it. But why not design it now, because the way things are today, that's the future.

LA: Fran Loretto incorporated an image of Portable Madonna in some of her photographs.

BH: I think it's really good because all along I've been fighting this concept of individualism, uniqueness, universalism, those concepts that are totally contrary to tribalism. Individualism immediately denies a future or a past awareness. You claim it, you own it, but you're not a part of it. It's more like "aren't I great?" And when other people take my ideas and develop them, I don't just feel complimented -- it's more than that, it's more like I have an effect. But when people take my ideas and market them, then it's an offense. And that happens a lot. People take my imagery and take out the political statement. But it sounds like what she did is great. Artists use common sense in what they make in their art, and I think, well, maybe I had something to do with it.

LA: In addition to sculpture, you also do monoprints and paintings. Are they along the same lines as the sculptural work?

BH: I like to go into the monoprints with a totally empty mind. I started them when they'd invite artists to come in and work for a day and donate a piece. I'd just go in with absolutely no ideas and see how much I could come up with in that little bit of time. They are also a technical challenge. I studied painting and drawing in school. I majored in painting, drawing, and sculpture until the last semester, and then I chose sculpture just to get out of school. I learned a lot about painting. I had some really, really good teachers in school and I studied a lot about color and directing the eye with color and composition. I played a lot with color. I also painted signs when I was a teenager. My father got me a job painting signs for grocery stores and I learned brush control, which was invaluable when it came to watercolors. But when I got out of school, I wanted to be an all-around artist, but I decided I had to do sculpture because it's so demanding. You can't do both, you have to do one or the other. So I just kind of dropped my painting but I would throw it in once in a while, do a drawing here or there. I think that sculpture is the ultimate art form. You can paint it; a painting is on a canvas on a wall; it deals with some kind of illusion. But a sculpture can be the object itself -- you can make a sunset right there. My idea is that you can paint anything you want to, especially sculpture. You're not restricted by a flat plane if you don't want to be, or you can make it a flat plane, whatever you want. I'm getting more and more involved in painting but I do it fast. I wish I could sit back, like I'm still in school and study a piece and paint it and re-paint it. But I just get in there and I attack. I can do a whole painting in a day, maybe two days. I don't like to repair mistakes, though I don't mind changing concepts and tearing a whole sculpture apart. I don't like re-painting or changing a shape and I'm not so hung up on a color theory anymore, simply because you go down to any group place, like the Plaza [in Santa Fe], and you see people standing around and you realize they have every color of the rainbow and an artist would say: "Well, I think I'll use a yellow tint." Even nature's not that way. You're controlled by the reflected light that ties all the colors and shades together, so I just attack. "I think I'll do blue now; no red . . . " I throw it on and just have fun.

LA: You've painted on steel in works like Landscape Bird and Landscape Dog from the early '90's, where you have a sky and clouds on the animal shapes.

BH: It comes from a symbol I used back in the early '70s when I was in college. I was using beautiful pieces of wood and painting them white to show the whitewashing of nature. I saw so many Indian artists getting these beautiful pieces of stone and making these really simplistic sculptures. People would come in and they wouldn't even care about the sculpture. There were two things they wanted: one, they had to have a Native American sign it, make it or construct it. And two, it had to be a pretty stone. Concept didn't matter as long as it had to do with Native Americans, or their idea of Native Americans. So I used to make fun of that and I still do. I think it's a ridiculous concept because art is too important to waste your time doing decorative things for ignorant people.

LA: Generally speaking, how much does your execution change as you go along?

BH: It's constantly changing. One word from somebody can change a whole concept. I can cut a piece in half if I have to. When I was in school I made a piece of jewelry and took it to sculpture class and the instructor passed it around. It was a piece of wood and brass and ivory and different materials, beautiful materials, all highly polished. I loved it. I fell in love with the piece. It was so precious, and I passed it around and everybody was touching it and I watched the finger prints appear on the brass. And I was saying "oh, no," and I wanted to polish it. Then somebody says: "I've been wondering why he passed this around because it's obvious our finger prints are going to be on the brass. Maybe he's making a statement about how precious we make art." And I realized she was right. She was more right than I was. I had made it precious, the Western man's way of making art precious, and I was watching it being destroyed and I was really distraught. And I realized once she said that, it's true. I had made it precious. It shouldn't be precious. It should be more available and from that moment on, that was twenty-five years ago, I realized that this concept of preciousness had to be eliminated. You can't make a work and worship yourself because it's there. If you see a piece and you've evolved, you know, a year or a week or a day longer, why not cut it apart? That's my philosophy.

LA: Two of your past shows have had multiple pieces. What is your sense of your work as is relates to the idea of mass production?

BH: I think that one of the reasons I got into steel is because I realized I would have to get involved in this factory production concept. I'd been working too hard, too individual . . . When you work with steel, you need equipment, you need a lot of other people that cooperate. For Artificial Cloud, the city of Tulsa got a train and they got people to help, people who just took off their suits and grabbed tools. It was so inspiring to me to see people that were just, you know, into it. One guy was obviously a racist, he didn't like Indian people, but he was working side-by-side with us. I guess he didn't know who I was or something. But we all wanted to see this, we all had this vision of putting something up that had meaning and when we got it up we were all like proud fathers. That's the kind of thing I want to see from my work, people participating and claiming the statement, claiming to be a part of the statement. I think that's totally contrary to what we're taught in America, that the artist is an individual genius. I don't want to see that in my work at all. I'd rather see, at the most, a cultural reflection of being an Apache. I believe that a man, or a woman, is a cultural person. That cultural reflection comes out in a contemporary mode that you can't tie back to the feathers or the beads or the bells, or whatever it is, from your own culture. But at the same time, that culture formed my thoughts and not just my specific culture but many, many generations back gave me the right to be who I am and I have to be responsible and acknowledge that I don't own that. And so I like having groups of people join in to my statement. Unfortunately it's all my statement because, and I guess that's my artist's ego, the individualism in me, I like to have control of what comes out of my studio. But the more people I can get involved in the factory approach the better as long as I control the statement and the quality.

LA: Maybe you're blending the individual ego with the cultural expression. You're both an individual and a conduit for the culture.

BH: That's why I did the self-portrait with the mirror because it is me. You look into the mirror and you see yourself. If an artist doesn't portray himself as being a part of you, as part of life today then he or she's failing. And so, yeah, a conduit is a good thing. I want people to look through the shield or the screen and see other people on the other side as cowards, as chickens, including myself. I'm a coward, too. I participate in this world. I was in the Vietnam War and we wiped out a hospital from a destroyer offshore. We all do it and we have to acknowledge it and not just sit back and hang yellow ribbons on our chests and forget that we killed thousands of Iraqis, and more so that we're destroying the air, which is as important, or destroying the water or the soil so we can't use it anymore. That's what we're doing; that's the mirror I want to give to people.

LA: In an interview with Clare Ruth Krantz, you said, "One of my restrictive categories for art is that if I don't see a self-portrait, then it's not art." 3 If you are to look at your work, what self-portrait emerges?

BH: Well, I still believe that's true. In Western art, self-portrait means a portrait of yourself. If I want to do that, I get a camera. When you are intimate with your materials and honest with what your statement is, it's a form of self-portraiture. But I think that only for myself. Other people have their own interpretation of what art is, but for myself I try to portray who I am today. I don't like portraying who I was yesterday or last year, and I certainly can't portray who I want to be. It's only who I am, my strengths and my weaknesses today. I try to forget about what I did last week or last month and think about what I did yesterday and what I've done all through these years so I can plan for tomorrow. So my work really is self-portraiture in that sense.

LA: One thread that ran through much of the writing about you and your comments is that of being an observer. You've said that you don't have any conclusions but just present the contradictions of what you see.

BH: Yeah, yeah. For me to present a conclusion when I don't know the conclusion myself, and when everybody changes and the viewers themselves obviously have no conclusion, would be ludicrous. And so all I do is observe and present my observations. I think that that's the artist's job, to try to present who we are as honestly as he or she can. And that's it. That's my job. There's a personality cult in American where you make it as an artist and you live off your personality from then on. You become an authority or spokesperson for your own movement. Well, I'd rather make it as an artist because my job is to be an observer and step away from the personality side. That's the side that's dangerous because it takes your creativity.

LA: With that in mind, what is your sense of your audience?

BH: My main audience is myself. I try to understand and relate to myself as honestly as I can. And then once I'm finished with a piece, I try to get rid of it, get it out of my studio and put it out and not worry about it. And that's something all artists have to do. You know, you fall in love with your own work, obviously, but you can't stay in love with it. You can't keep it precious. You have to push it out because it's like a child. You set them up for attaining womanhood or manhood and then you have to let them do it, and if you hold their hand the whole time, they'll never do it. It's kind of a silly way of describing it, but it's true. I sometimes even forget where my work is. Even though at one time I was totally in love with it because it was for myself, an attempt to understand my own ignorance.

LA: You turned 50 a few years back, on April Fool's Day. You've been a working professional since '71. Looking back over your work and what you've done, how do you see your work evolving? Much of what you did early in your career were figurative works where the statement wasn't as overt as in the last few years. How would you assess your work?

BH: I look at my earlier work and I realize I was making very strong political statements then, but I was using more acceptable imagery. Now I'm just using steel and I don't mind dumping something in front of somebody as long as it has my sense of aesthetics, and as long as my sense of aesthetics is being pleased. I'm not so concerned about their rules of carving or color or stuff so much. That's the only thing I've seen that's evolved because the statement I'm dealing with now for Native American people is getting much worse. I mean, a lot of people are saying we're getting our language back, we have programs here and there. The reality of it is that we're losing our language and the land and the religion, which are so important for a people to maintain to have an awareness of environment, the Mother Earth concept, the living earth concept . . . I see it getting worse. I see no end to what I have to say. Every minute I look around, I see there's something to be said. That's kind of inspiring, but it's also depressing to realize that the tide is coming in and I'm stuck -- we're all stuck. To realize what we're giving to my children's children or great-grandchildren, and on and on, may be a curse rather than a blessing. We might give them some kind of financial blessing, but we're giving them a tremendous curse -- and I don't want them to really curse me, but I think that they're going to. Everyone of us is going to be cursed by our grandchildren because we didn't give them nature. We gave them convenience.


1 Bob Haozous, quoted in Houser and Haozous: A Sculptural Retrospective. Phoenix, AZ: The Heard Museum, 1983, p. 23.

2 Gallery guide to SITE Haozous, The Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1995, p. 3.

3 Clare Wolfe Krantz, "Interview: Bob Haozous," Art Papers, March/April, 1989, pp. 23-26.


SITE Haozous, solo installation, The Wheelwright Museum, Santa Fe, NM, 1995

Haozous Does Chickens, solo exhibition, Rettig y Martinez Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, 1994

The Vanishing Buffalo Herd, solo exhibition, Rettig y Martinez Gallery, 1993

Steelhenge, solo installation, College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM, 1994

The Vanishing White Man, solo exhibition, Rettig Y Martinez Gallery, 1992


Kathleen McCloud, "A Visit to SITE Haozous," Pasatiempo (September 29-October 5, 1995), p. 4.

Sharon Goldman, "The Art of Honesty: A Political Sculptor Creates Steel Truths," Santa Fe Reporter 20, 1 (June 22-28, 1994), pp. 30-31.

David Steinberg, "Artist Unfazed by Graffiti," Albuquerque Journal (May 10, 1992), p. G7.

Joy Waldron, "Bob Haozous," Southwest Art 22, 3 (August, 1992): pp. 62-67.

Suzanne Kenagy, "Bob Haozous," American Indian Art Magazine 15, 3 (Summer, 1990): 66-73.

William Clark, "Sculptor Carves Politics in Steel," Albuquerque Journal (February 12, 1989), pp. G1-G2.

Claire Wolf Krantz, "Interview: Bob Haozous," Art Papers 13, 2 (March-April, 1989): 23-26.

Bob Haozous: The Dartmouth Exhibition, Rettig y Martinez Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, 1989

Suzanne Kenagy, "Apache Spirit/Bob Haozous," Masterkey 62, 4 (Winter, 1989): 3.

Houser and Haozous: A Sculptural Retrospective, The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ, 1983

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