Interviews By Larry Abbott

Harry Fonseca

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Harry Fonseca
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In his close to twenty-year career as an exhibiting artist, Harry Fonseca's work has gone through a number of transformations, but the one constant has been his openness to new influences and sources of inspiration.

Fonseca's earliest pieces drew from his Maidu heritage. He was influenced by basketry designs, dance regalia, and by his participation as a traditional dancer. Further, the creation myth of his people, as recounted by his uncle, Henry Azbill, became the source of a major 1977 work, Creation Story. This piece visually embodies the underpinnings of Maidu culture. Margaret Archuleta has noted that the work is a pictorially complex sequence set in a spiral motif. The central focal point is Helinmaiden, the Maidu Big Man, Great Man, or God, as he appears on the raft with Turtle. The continuing pencil and ink drawings are linked together as they rotate in a clockwise movement around the central axis of Helinmaiden, whose importance is expressed by his central placement. The spiral design echoes the cyclical rhythm of the storytelling in connection with the seasonal celebrations. 1

This myth continues to inspire Fonseca, as his 1991 The Maidu Creation Story shows. The basic imagery of this painting recalls petroglyphic symbols, and although less figurative than the 1979 work, still seeks to give visual form to myth. Fonseca does not replicate his past imagery but looks for new ways of connecting to tradition. Regarding the 1991 work, Darryl Wilson has pointed out that Fonseca "was particularly struck by ancient rock art from the Coso Range in the high desert country near Owens Lake [north of Ridgecrest, California]. Because of its powerful appeal, he incorporated some of its images into the similarly powerful and appealing creation story Henry Azbill told him." 2

"Shuffle Off to Buffalo," 1987, mixed media 
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Another level of transformation is evident in the Coyote series, which Fonseca began in 1979 (and which, after a few years' hiatus, he has started again). The subject of these works is Coyote, the trickster and transformer. Fonseca resituates the culture hero into contemporary settings, such as San Francisco's Mission District. Coyote can become an updated and sneaker-wearing Rousseau, holding his palette on a Parisian quay (Rousseau Revisited, 1986), or headress-clad and sneakered (Coyote in Front of Studio, 1983). Coyote becomes an alembic through which Fonseca filters his vision of the artist, and the Indian, in society.

"Nocturne #11," 1990, mixed media
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Fonseca's continuing interest in rock art led him to develop the Stone Poems, an extensive series of works exploring the imagery of petroglyphs, not only from California but throughout the West and Southwest, especially Utah. The Stone Poems are not meant to be so much an interpretive recording of rock images but a way of self-exploration. The canvases, some as large as 6' by 12', suggest the size and scope of petroglyphic panels in situ.

Fonseca's work took a more political turn with the 1992 Discovery of Gold and Souls in California series. Each of these small mixed-media pieces, measuring about 15" x 11", offer subtle variations on the image of a black cross surrounded by gold leaf and partially covered with red oxide. Fonseca has stated that this series "is a direct reference to the physical, emotional and spiritual genocide of the native people of California. With the rise of the mission system, and much later the discovery of gold in California, the native world was fractured, and with it, a way of life and order devastated." 3

Fonseca was born in Sacramento, California in 1946, and is of Nisenan Maidu, Hawaiian, and Portugese heritage. He studied for a time at Sacramento City College and with Frank LaPena at Cal State University at Sacramento, but was reluctant to become an academic stylist, so he decided not to continue formal art education in order to pursue his own vision. About his recent work Fonseca has said: " . . . I bring 45 years of life to those canvases. I bring a tremendous amount of joy to those canvases, I bring a tremendous amount of freedom to those canvases, I bring a tremendous amount of anger . . . " 4

I talked with Harry in his gallery in Santa Fe periodically throughout 1994-96. This interview is a composite of many conversations I've had with him during that time.

LA: You've been traveling quite a bit over the last year or so.

HF: First of all, in November [1994], I went to Caracas for a week to talk about a show that was traveling around the country [The Spirit of Native America]. I had never been there before. That was a real eye opener. In January [1995] I went to New Zealand for two weeks with 80 artists from the Pacific Rim and the Pacific Islands. They were from Australia and New Guinea, Hawaii, Japan, and the Pacific Northwest Coast. Linda Lomahaftewa, Melanie Yazzie, Denise Wallace and myself went from Santa Fe. That was just remarkable. It was a cultural exchange and symposium that was put on by an organization in New Zealand that is incredibly supportive of artists and the arts. We had a large tent to work in. The painters were in one area and the weavers were in one area and the carvers in another area. We worked when we wanted to. There was more to it than just an exchange of ideas. As soon as we saw each other, we didn't have to say anything. We understood where we were with one another. All these artists working in one tent created some powerful communication.

"Untitled," 1990, mixed media
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LA: What were some of the connections among the artists?

Harry Fonseca Studio
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HF: One of the things that I saw, and it's happening, I think, all over the world now, is that artists are paying attention to their backgrounds and their nationality. There is a tremendous of energy in artistic history and ideas. That's something that I have been working with for a long time, and when you see that in so many other artists from different parts of the world you realize it's a beat that's going on.

LA: You did a collaboration with an artist from Australia?

HF: When I was in New Zealand, one of the artists there was Judy Watson. She is an aboriginal artist. I was watching her paint. She had her canvases laid out on the grass and was pouring water on them and staining them and rubbing dirt into them, working very aggressively. That was really appealing to me, so somewhere down the line, either I asked her or she asked me, I forget now, if we could do a painting together, so we did a collaboration on one painting. It took us about 45 minutes to an hour. We hardly said anything to each other, maybe two words. Did you see that painting? It's the one with the skulls on it over there. We were thrilled over that piece of work, we just knew it was right on, and that we could work real well together. That was the high point of the trip for me even though there were so many other things that took place. She came here for nine days or so and traveled around the Southwest and was here at the studio for a day, and we did about eight pieces of work together.

LA: Do you ever find that you start to draw from things that you see in your travels?

HF: I think that is always the case. But I've been so busy the last three years -- it was three years ago, I think, that I went to Japan -- that I haven't even had time to think about Japan and get into what I absorbed. I know there were some real shifts in color. I've always liked Japanese art and especially Zen painting and that whole philosophy. I'm sure a lot of that comes through my work unconsciously, but I don't think I have ever really stopped to give it the attention that I would like to give it. That's the same way with New Zealand. Since I've been back it's been non-stop and I haven't had a chance to get into that. Now I know that I can include a lot of things from different parts of the world in paintings like the Stone Poems and they will have even more meaning on a broader level. I'm sure of that. With my background, the Hawaiian, the Portuguese and the Indian all mixed up, that's why my hair looks like it does. That's the truth.

LA: What have you been working on yourself?

Harry Fonseca , "The Discovery of Gold and Souls in California," 1991-92, mixed media

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HF: I've been unfolding canvases for the last two weeks and I have painted over all of them. Oh, they were just awful. Terrible, terrible. But, I knew if I kept working, something would happen and sure enough it has happened. I'm not working on canvas, I'm working on paper. So, that was a big switch. I've used up about three or four gallons of paint, I'm sure.

I'm working on these flute player images from the petroglyphs around Santa Fe. What is so appealing to me about petroglyphs is in many cases the forms are so simple, or appear to be simple, and quite elegant. I've got one here that you've got to see. It's taken from the petroglyphs around the Santa Fe area. It's a figure with its hands over its head, forming a circle, and its feet are together, forming a circle, so it's like a circle on top and a circle on the bottom, and the toes look like roots. That's the kind of design elegance that attracts me to them because they are absolutely stunning. I'm working with that simplicity in a series on paper now because I don't always get what I want the first time, so I just keep going and going and going and do a series of eight or ten, and then, out of those, one or two will be really what I like, so I'm letting the process take care of itself.

LA: What is your process for doing these works on paper?

HF: Looking at that sketch book you can see where I am doing the outline of the figure to get the impact of what I am looking at, putting some little dots inside of it and then putting a little wash over the top to loosen it up. Overall I'm working with that simple form. If you go out and look at these rock images long enough it's like looking at an Impressionist painting. You look at the petroglyphs and you're not sure what you are looking at and all of a sudden your eye brings it all together. The image comes together and you get that simplified line. But after looking at these for such a long time you realize that there is another line that is going on that is terribly, incredibly energetic. I took a piece of Mylar out with me one time and I put it on top of the petroglyph and traced it with its broken line, the nervousness of the line, the energy of the line, and I had no idea how powerful that was until I saw it on the Mylar. With the pieces here, I am trying to get a combination of that simplified form and that energetic line going around it. That's what you're seeing by that white space that's going on. I get confused if I use more than two colors, that's why I like black and grey. Using the white of the paper is another color, and it electrifies the figure and brings it to life. It really makes it jump off that rock.

LA: You've worked with petroglyphs before. How do these works differ from the Stone Poems?

HF: I think what I'm doing now is paying attention to the design of the figure, what is really there, and trying to get that on the paper or on the canvas, but not to abstract it and not try to convince you that you are looking at petroglyphs. This is acrylic on paper. I'm letting the white paper show through. They are done pretty spontaneously and are incredibly lively and loose, but I don't have paint dripping and splattering or the scribbling that went on in the Stone Poems. These are, I think, emotionally more lower-keyed. One of the things that is really important working with these simple designs is that they have to be right on for me in order for them to work, and the color has to be right on, as well. The color is very hard. I go out there and look at the rocks, and I never know what color I am looking at. Is that black/grey? Is that grey/black? Is that black/brown, brown/black? Is that yellow oxide? To come back into the studio and try to mix that stuff is really difficult.

When I was doing these images on canvas I think I was trying to do too much, too fast, working too hard at it, making them too complicated because they are very different from the Stone Poems. So it's like a two-week transition from that active way of painting. Now I'm calming it down to a more simplified way of approaching the figures. I wasn't sure that these were going to work either, and then, I think I did 18 in one night, small pieces, and I liked what was there but a lot of times that doesn't mean much. I came back the next morning and they were on the floor and I looked at them and said, "Yes, I think I have something here to work with." And it isn't driving me nutty like the canvases were.

LA: Do you ever imagine the people who were putting these petroglyphs on the rocks? A thousand years ago, you might have had the solitary artist pecking away at the rocks, and now you are out there.

HF: These were done a long, long time ago, and I sense that and I love making that bridge. I like making the connection between now and what took place and I use it as a school. I use those rocks as art class for me. We're just an extension of people that came before us, and I see the art work in the same way. There's something about it that's very reassuring and solid.

LA: How did the Stone Poems develop?

HF: Well, let's see, there's a date here somewhere -- 1989. I guess that's when I started these, and I'm still doing them. I go back to the images of the Coso Range in California.

LA: You work in a fairly large format with the Stone Poems. Some are about 6 x 6 feet, with others in that range, and even larger. These are probably your largest pieces.

HF: You know, they just happened. When I started doing them, the first one was 6 x 7 feet and I really liked working that big because I hadn't worked that large in a long, long time. I don't know if I ever worked that large, actually. One was 6 x 12 feet. I've done some small pieces that are 11 x 22 inches. They're OK, but I'm using big brushes and oil stick, and oil stick is a real awkward medium, and for me you have to be really aggressive with it in order to pull it off. You can't be tender with it . . . or I find a hard time being tender with it. They are more emotionally charged when they are larger, which I like.

LA: On the Stone Poems, it looks like you have one image that anchors the piece and then other images happening peripherally around that. How do you go about conceptualizing the Stone Poems?

HF: The majority of them have a single, central figure in them, but there are some that have five or six figures. The one that's 6 x 12 feet has a lot of figures in them. The first ones had a single figure in them. I would like them to be a little more populated with things.

LA: You layer the paint on these. Are you are trying to create a sense of depth on the canvas through layering the paint?

HF: I think you get that sense of depth because of the black on the canvas. It's like a hole you can go into. You could have a black canvas and put a white hand on that canvas and you'll have space for days, you know, that hand will hover there forever and the black will suck you in.

LA: One of your earliest works from the mid-'70's was a Maidu Creation Story painting, which was done in a circular shape. Was that one of your first paintings? This looks like a new one.

HF: Not one of the first paintings. I'd been painting a lot before that. But I think the creation story anchored a lot for me, put a lot in perspective for me. Just that little drawing, you know. Because the story itself is so wonderful and creation stories don't end. I'm part of it, you're part of it, everybody's a part of this story that's continuing to unfold. This piece here is a new piece and it's still dealing with the same subject matter, but the images are different. They are petroglyphs now. They are not drawings of people and so forth.

LA: Could you talk about some of the work you did before that piece and a little about your art education?

HF: Well, I think, in terms of my art education and background, probably the number one thing is I just love to paint. I've discovered two things recently: When I was going to college, why didn't I like taking art classes? Why didn't I go back for more technique and so forth? Looking back, I think it's because when I was 11 years old, I knew I was an artist. I already knew that at a real, deep level. So, when I went to college, I felt that I could already do what I had to do. It may not be done the way the instructor might have wanted it to be, but it was going to be done the way I wanted it to be. My work is that way now. It has a certain energy about it. It has a certain emotional impact about it that is not taught. Another thing is: why do I do this? I do it because I love to do it. So those are two questions that have been answered at 48 years old. It took that long to answer those two. Let's see, my background, in terms of art education, I started in high school, but probably more important than doing actual painting -- I remember painting with oils and how awkward that was, painting sail boats and that kind of thing -- was the teacher I had. He would show us slides because he was educated in Italy, so he had tons of slides of the Renaissance. That was a really stimulating time to see all these images, so-called "fine art." Then, by the time I got to college, Abstract Expressionism was still popular, and I remember Robert Motherwell, seeing some of his work. I fell in love with that and started to really move paint around and drip paint and have a great time. But not really with any direction. It was almost art for art's sake.
"Saint Francis and Wild Ravens," 1996, mixed media
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The paint was just a going and a going. Then, I found out more about my Native American background, and became involved with the dances and the whole traditional base. That really gave me a foundation, not only for me but for my art work as well. It's still here. It's still very, very strong. It has a great deal of meaning to me, even when I am not doing a petroglyph, or a coyote or something, there's still something there.

LA: Some of your early work was based on basketry designs.

HF: I think at that time it wasn't even so much the painting. It was just the whole process of living . . . being involved with the Native American community . . . talking to Henry Azbill . . . talking to Frank Day . . . being taught by Frank LaPena . . . going up to the dances at Grindstone . . . being asked to dance with the Maidu dancers. Being initiated as a dancer was just a knockout! Life just went on . . . pot luck picnics and all of that stuff was involved. It's, I don't know, just very strange. The Santa Fe art scene, I'm not sure what it is. It's strong, but it's not the experience I had in Northern California. Of course, there is a very strong Pueblo connection to the art here. So, I'm in a foreign world in a way, but I like this world, too.

LA: How much were you able to talk with Frank Day?

HF: I met Frank when he was ill so I wasn't able to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. However, the first time I met him there were really nice connections that took place. I would go over and see him now and again and he would tell me stories and when I left he was exhausted because he was an incredible story teller. He'd just take you right out of the room with really amazing stuff, just like his paintings. He was that powerful. I remember asking Frank what is the best way to paint? His answer was profound. He said, "The best way to paint is the way you know how." What more could he have told me as a painter? Really wonderful! I think that Frank is one of our major Native American painters in the United States. I have no doubts about that. Not only just his technique, but his drama. What he put on a canvas and his imagination is just phenomenal. His color . . . there is just so much going on. He's definitely a treasure that I hope will get full recognition.

LA: You're most well-known for the Coyote series. You took a little hiatus from it and recently you're getting back into it. Is there a connection between the earlier coyote pieces and the recent ones?

HF: I don't know why I usually do what I do. I mean, one of the things that I do tend to go along with is when my art wants to change, I'll just go along with it. Coyote didn't come to an end, but I wasn't doing coyote pieces for a while, and the rock art images started to surface. I've felt that I was in a real good place in terms of my art, what I was feeling about my art, probably better than I ever have been in my life. I feel that way still, probably even stronger now. I'll just paint whatever I want to paint. It's not that I hadn't done that in the past. It's just that I stayed in certain areas. I didn't think about moving to other areas, but I have moved into other areas -- I've done the crosses and the Stone Poems and the Coyote series and the Navajo blankets. I mean, you look around the gallery and it looks like maybe three or four artists work here -- or a crazy person -- one or the other. I've been here for almost five years, but I've been to Germany twice and to Japan once. I've been to Venezuela and New Zealand. I haven't been able to sit in my gallery and say, "OK, what do I want to do for the next ten canvases?" I'm really looking forward to that, to take one image and really work it, so that when you do come in here you'll see ten canvases with a certain theme. I really do want to do that. I tend to get a little too scattered, and yet at the same time, I feel real good with the sense that I can do whatever I want because I don't care much about arts movements or art scenes in general.

LA: You are continuing to work on the Coyote pieces?

HF: Yes. Sundance Productions is doing a movie on imagination and creativity, and they asked me if I would paint a picture and they could film it. I usually don't do that but in this case it was for children. They are going to put the movie into educational systems in the United States. I was going to do a Stone Poem because I thought the kids would really like to see the paint drip and fly around, with all the action involved, but I decided to do a coyote instead. I did coyote in a leather jacket. That's the first one that I've done of him in a long, long time and I was delighted to see the way he appeared again. Coyote leaves the reservation in a leather jacket and Levi's and tennis shoes. He's much more fluid, I think, than before. He's much more relaxed. He's more anchored to the sidewalk, the horizontal, than he was before. I think there's a certain sensuality about him that I don't see in the other pieces, the way the line moves around with that tail. Also, the broken white areas that appear between the figure and the back . . . the whole thing is just so much looser.

LA: Saint Coyote from '93 is a looser depiction, but there are a lot more interesting things going on in the background. In the other two you described coyote is against a white or red wall or a grey wall with the sidewalks. On the Saint Coyote piece he seems to be on a stage; there's a curtain with angelic, flying coyotes also in leather jackets.

"Untitled," 1990, mixed media
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HF: Well, that same coyote image is not a new image; I've done that in the past. What brought this about is, I had heard that the Catholic Church wanted to make Father Serra a saint and I just couldn't believe it. Then, the Native America community got involved in Southern California to protest his canonization. I don't know where it is at this point, but there was a commercial for tuna fish that said, "Sorry, Charlie, only the best tuna will do," or something. So, the original title of this Saint Coyote piece was Sorry, Father Serra, Only the Best Coyotes Will Do. Then, I turned it into Saint Coyote to make it a little cooler. I thought if anybody is going to get to sainthood, it's going to be coyote before Father Serra. It's also a play on the Renaissance with all the angels, and the Baroque period with everything moving around and those checkered floors. It's a fun piece.

LA: Could you discuss the Navajo Rug series a bit?

HF: What happened with the Navajo Rug series, and working with the rock art, I was aware that Native American design is really American art. I was very conscious of that. I had a show of about 20 of those pieces at the Southwest Museum and when I got back to my studio I was really jazzed because I was right in the middle of this whole process of painting, and yet, I didn't have the energy, or maybe the desire, to do these Stone Poems and work with the composition, but I wanted to paint. There was a book on Navajo rugs laying on my table and the striking simplicity of them really struck me, and I started working with the horizontal stripes. That's how they came about. I was so excited about doing this work, I didn't have time to stretch stuff, so I just stapled them to the wall, and the paintings are done. They are meant to be unframed. What a person does with them is up to them because I have done my part.

LA: The series of crosses struck me as being your most overtly political work. Could you talk about how those pieces came about?

HF: Again, I don't know the reason for them coming about, but I know how they came about. I was moving here to New Mexico. I'd put away everything but I wanted to paint, so I had some black paint, red oxide and some gold leaf, artificial gold leaf around, so I started to do the series. I did four of the crosses and then I thought, well, I don't know if I want to continue these because they were so brutal. I did four of them and called them The Discovery of Gold and Souls in California. There was something that intrigued me about the brutality but also the elegance of them, so I ended up doing 160, and I think that they probably are my most pointed political statements. That doesn't mean a great deal to me. I mean, I don't think you have to toss a bomb at something that you dislike to be conscious of political situation. I don't know if I told you this before, but I think the most profound political statement being made today is by any Native American that is still breathing. They don't have to be marching, you know, just breathing -- they don't have to be doing anything. That's the perception that I have and so I don't need the drama in some political way. I would rather create drama in other ways.

LA: Your work has gone through some transformations over the last couple of years.

HF: A lot of that has been dictated by my life here the last three years, with the travel, going to Japan, Germany, Caracas, New Zealand. My attention gets taken away from the actual painting. So, when I do get a chance to get into the studio, I never know exactly what is going to happen. I will start off with something that I think is a good idea, then I won't get back to it for maybe two or three weeks, and then by that time, I want to do something else. Now I try to get out at least once a week into the countryside to look at petroglyphs and keep me connected.

LA: The work you were doing in 1996 when we talked had three different sets of images. How did each of these develop? Are there connections among them?

HF: I've been working on this new imagery, I guess, maybe eight months now. I think a lot of it has started with working with Judy Watson in New Zealand. I work this way to some degree with a stone poem, that looseness and aggressive way of working. But my images are kind of like scattered all over the place. Working with Judy was really instrumental in narrowing down the images and focusing on a single figure. That's what the work is about. I've got three different subjects and, yeah, they're all here. But they started off with that figure, that single figure of the snake going up the sides. And Judy came and we painted a figure, one figure with a snake going up the side and I really liked the way it came out. So that's sort of an extension of that. And it's dealing with metamorphosis, the changes that we all go through. I'm not sure what kind of style that is; I don't have a clue.

LA: In that particular piece the figure is dark and somewhat indistinct. Like some of the other work you're using a lot of gold.

HF: I had 2 gallons of it and I didn't really know what to do with it so I started using it and it's like, oh man, there's too much gold in these paintings, but I don't care because it's working. It's kind of neat that I had all that gold or else I would never have used it. The title of this piece is called "In the Silence of Dusk He Began to Shed His Skin, with the Dawn He Would Never Be the Same." It's about those changes that we go through that are profound changes. Anyway, I did a series of these paintings and I'm looking at them and I'm thinking I would really like to do something to anchor my viewer down a bit because these become somewhat ethereal and they're more like spirits. I started this deer series and it's basically the same sort of silhouette image but it's got antlers and the figure is holding two sticks, so it really stabilizes you a lot more even though it's painted in the same style. Then I wanted to do a human being and actually I started working with these Icarus figures first. They're based on rock art images in Utah. Finally I started working on these St. Francis pieces and again you've got that silhouette in the middle of the canvas. He's in a very active environment. He seems to be very secure and solid. His environment is in total motion. So you've got those contradictory emotions and ideas going on.

LA: What led you to focus on St. Francis?

HF: I wanted to do a person but I couldn't figure out who. I was thinking about doing Ishi, whom I think I probably will do sooner or later. But St. Francis has always intrigued me. There's something about him that is very much like coyote. He went against the tradition of the church. He certainly had a vision and went for it. And that's what the paintings are more about, a man that had a vision and had a focus and just went, regardless. I really admire that and I hope that's what I'm getting across in the pieces. I'm not interested in the Catholic Church because I already did that. Been there, did that for like 40 years. So this is somewhere else, I hope. And it seems like it is working. I sold a couple of the St. Francis pieces already and the show is not up until November. The people that have bought them know it's St. Francis but they're picking up other things as well, so that's what's cool.

LA: These works have very disparate images, yet they are all of a single figure.

HF: I wanted to address a number of things in this show but I never actually sat down and planned it. These paintings of the figure with the snakes show the idea of rebirth and growth and the struggle it takes to make really important changes. That was one thing that really came out of that work, and then the idea of the dialogue with the deer is so powerful, especially in the ones that are green and gold. And you know, after looking at them I was wondering what they were saying and I do think there is some kind of connection with the animal in that landscape. And then Icarus, the idea of flight, and that idea about testing ourselves and balancing that, and then the St. Francis pieces. The idea of going against the norm and succeeding. So these are subjects that are being addressed in this show. And I wanted to do something on the AIDS epidemic because you certainly don't see much of that kind of information here in Santa Fe. But that wasn't really the point; I just wanted to address the subject for a long time and it seems like most of the work has some kind of mythology underneath it so I was just pondering some of the mythology from Central, South America, human sacrifice, cutting out the heart, so I titled these pieces "When the Sun Feasts on Hearts." They depict skeletons squatting down, eating a heart, and then the border has pink triangles that turn into hearts. They're brutal pieces but they're very tender pieces, too. I think that light pink kind of helps out.

LA: As you look back over your career, what have been the hallmarks of your work?

HF: I think just that process of not knowing where I'm headed and the continuous moving is certainly what has kept me going. I think that might keep most artists going, but looking back over 25 years, there's another element that has been terribly important and that is the people that have been so supportive, family and friends and collectors, that whole array because I actually communicate with these people. I've always been that way. It's not that the work is in a gallery and I never see these people, but I usually end up meeting them somewhere and so I get to know them.

Also, there is a certain directness about all my work, and in some ways there is a certain simplification, even in the Stone Poems. The single image or two or three images are pretty straightforward. That is one thing that you see in my work most of the time. I use things that are pretty direct. That's what I like about these petroglyphs that I'm working on now, they are just terribly direct, almost child-like in a way, and I love that. They look a lot simpler than they are. The other thing is just working with paint . . . I mean, that's what I am. I'd like to be a sculptor as well, but I am really a painter, and I love working with paint. I think being introduced to Abstract Expressionism, the spontaneity of that work, that's always been a big influence. Even when I've got a flat surface, the way I paint that flat surface is always very quick. I paint it very smoothly, there's a lot of action going on, so it's just the process of painting. There are things that keep coming back all the time, and I'm willing to take that risk when the time comes to put those canvases up and go to town again.


1998 The Discovery of Gold in California, solo exhibition, Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA

1995 Indian Humor, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA

1995 Cultural Connections, group exhibition, Austral Gallery, St. Louis, MO,

1993 The Spirit of Native America, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA

1993 Solo Exhibition, East Hawaii Cultural Center Gallery, Hilo, HI

1992 We, The Human Beings, group exhibition, College of Wooster Art Museum, Wooster, OH

1992 Solo Exhibition, Galerie Calumet, Heidelberg, Germany

1992 The Alcove Show, group exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM

1991 Stone Poems: Recent Paintings by Harry Fonseca, solo exhibition, American Indian Community House Gallery/Museum, New York, NY

1991 Portfolio III: Ten Native American Artists, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA

1991 Our Land/Ourselves, group exhibition, University Art Gallery, State University of New York, Albany, NY

1991 Shared Visions, group exhibition, The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ

1990 Harry Fonseca: New Paintings, solo exhibition, Meridian Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1989 Stone Poems: New Paintings by Harry Fonseca, solo exhibition, Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, CA

1989 An Exhibition of Contemporary Native American Art, group exhibition, Northern Arizona University Art Gallery, Flagstaff, AZ

1986 Coyote: A Myth in the Making, solo exhibition, National History Museum Foundation,

1985 The Extension of Tradition, group exhibition, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA


Harry Fonseca, "Artist's Statement." Indian Humor. San Francisco: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1995, pp. 42-43.

Darryl Wilson. "Harry Fonseca." News from Native California 7, 1 (Winter 1992/93): reverse of unpaginated center poster [includes reproduction of The Maidu Creation Story, 1991].

Frank LaPena. "Contemporary Northern California Native American Art." California History LXXI, 3 (Fall 1992): 386-401.

Rick Hill. "Harry Fonseca" in Half-Indian, Half-Artist. (Santa Fe, NM: The Museum of Fine Arts, 1992) [unpaginated exhibition brochure for The Alcove Show].

Lorenzo Baca. "Coyote: An Interview with Harry Fonseca." News from Native California 4, 3 (Spring 1990): 31.

Frank LaPena. "Choice." News from Native California 4, 3 (Spring 1990): 30-31.

Nancy Ann Jones. "Modern Rock Drawings: Harry Fonseca paintings at Southwest Museum." Artweek 20, 42 (December 14, 1989): 12.

Margaret Archuleta. Coyote: A Myth in the Making. (Washington, DC: National History Museum Foundation, 1986) [unpaginated exhibition brochure].

Frank LaPena and Janice Driesbach, eds. "Harry Fonseca." The Extension of Tradition (Sacramento, CA: The Crocker Art Museum, 1985), p. 60.

Jamake Highwater. "Harry Fonseca." The Sweet Grass Lives On (New York: Lippincott and Crowell, 1980), pp. 74-75.


1 Margaret Archuleta, Coyote: A Myth in the Making (Washington, DC: The National History Museum Foundation, 1986), unp. However, in a compilation by Craig D. Bates of Azbill versions of the Maidu creation myth, Bates indicates that "Helin Maideh" is the Maidu "Big Man" or "Great Person." See News from Native California 7, 1 (Winter 1992/93): 38.

2 Darryl Wilson, "Harry Fonseca," News from Native California 7, 1 (Winter 1992/93): unp. centerfold.

3 Harry Fonseca, artist's statement, We, The Human Beings (Wooster, OH: College of Wooster Art Museum, 1992), p. 25.

4 Shared Visions : native American painters and sculptors in the twentieth century : conference, May 8-11, 1991, Phoenix, Arizona : proceedings (Phoenix, AZ: The Heard Museum, 1992), p. 146.

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