Interviews By Larry Abbott
.

Rick Bartow
Yurok


Main
Email
Sara Bates
Rick Bartow
Pat Deadman
Joe Feddersen
Anita Fields
Harry Fonseca
Bob Haozous
Melanie
Printup Hope
Bobby Martin
Gerald McMaster
George Morrison
Shelley Niro
Joanna Osburn-Bigfeather
Diego Romero
Mateo Romero
Bently Spang
Ernie Whiteman
Richard Ray Whitman
Alfred Young Man
Related Links
For The Community
.

LA: Maybe we could start by talking about your process of working and the media that you use.

RB: I use pastel, graphite, and charcoal. Occasionally, I work with acrylics. A friend of mine talks about the sensuality of painting, of brush against canvas. He says there's a very sensual quality, and I understand that, but for me there's more of a physicality to the paper, the sound of pastel on paper. I work standing up. That allows for good motion, so there's a gesture in the process. And then erasing in. If I put in a big graphite area it takes a lot to get a line erased back through that. Even when I'm painting, I get my fingers in there to do what I need to do. Mostly what I do is draw and draw and draw. I begin, I listen, and I look and maybe a shadow happens. I don't know what it is. But it doesn't start in the studio. It starts with books and other images, people, it starts back in here someplace, it goes back to my family, to somebody else. My great-grandfather used to carve, what do they call them, little doodads, whirligigs and things.


"Naming Fear," 1992, pastel, graphite and charcoal
 
Click link or on image to see larger size
**All images courtesy of the artists**
All images copyright of the artists
**All reproduction rights controlled by the artists**

He used to carve stuff like that. Maybe it goes back through him. It's old, it's not me. My education is minimal. There were a couple of people who gave me tools that were like a pick and a shovel to get into the mind. I always think of John Casey and my aunt. But my stepdad and my mother always provided a little extra space for me. We had a big family but they provided a little extra space and my stepdad was real good at building things. He made me a drawing board when I was pretty young. Norman Rockwell was always shown with a pipe, so my dad didn't say anything when I snitched one of his pipes. I wouldn't smoke it, I'd sit there chewing on it like Norman Rockwell. I looked that way. So, really, it starts someplace outside and then it comes in through experience. Sometimes, like with the bear image here [Big Bear VI, 1994], I have an idea of what I want to do, and something will happen. In Wolf and Deer [1993] there are two separate drawings. That came about from listening to Chief Lelooska. He's a hell of a storyteller. He told a story about the deer and the wolf. The wolf has these big sharp knifed teeth and he invites animals to something like a pot latch, but he watches their mouths and asks them to sing so he can see how their teeth are, and if they've got little flat teeth he eats them. But the deer would say, oh, I don't sing like that and he'd keep his teeth covered. So that's what this one's all about. Of course, the wolf cajoles the deer into opening his mouth and sees that he has flat teeth, so the wolf chases after him, and from then on the wolf has chased the deer and the deer has always run. That's what this drawing is about. Where's the beginning? The beginning's in the myth. I smeared charcoal on the paper and erased the big gestural marks and then cut back into it in a very classic style. When I was a kid, 16 or 17, my mother and father paid the money for me to go down to Southern Oregon University to take a workshop from a man named Joseph Magnani, a wonderful wild man. One thing that I think I picked up from him was gestural beginnings, just make marks and marks and marks, big marks. Then refine, refine, refine, until you start coming up with something. Sometimes in a smear I'll see something like this face, this kind of scary thing, and then the teeth, because as an alcoholic my teeth were falling out. It's an old story, but teeth became important. Then I hear this myth about wolf and the teeth and it clicks in. I get this wolf-looking thing going on, which really doesn't look like a wolf at all, but it has this energy to it. Then the deer follows suit. This house, I lived here when I was 3 years old. I haven't gone a long ways but when I came back, I dug clams where my great-grandfather dug them. My son dug clams there, too. Now once a year we go to a secret spot where my uncle took us and we think about him and the family and we dig our clams and then come home. That feeds it, too.


"Crow's Creation," 1992, pastel,
graphite and charcoal

Click link or on image to see larger size
**All images courtesy of the artists**
All images copyright of the artists
**All reproduction rights controlled by the artists**

There was a whole series after my uncle passed on about the inheritance, and that was his clam rake and a shovel. I used those and then made a series about boats and ladders. When my uncle was weakening, when his physical body was weakening, we started taking the herbs up there and he liked that. He lived right behind here about a hundred yards up. And so as we started working through that stuff, dreams, very powerful dreams came, and of course when you're losing someone you love and who's very important to you, you're strengthened by that. I mean, it's a tragic time and it's a very sad time, but also it's very energizing because there's this information coming in. We can't deny that we're going to be there in our time. Before my uncle left we talked about love and we were able to express that.

Nepui, the salmon, is very important because we're honoring the salmon. The elder and I started praying the old medicine and praying at the river when the salmon came, honoring them and inviting that spirit into the Sweat Lodge with us, crying for them to come. We miss them and we want them back again. I talked about the salmon prayer and the way it rolls out; it's just like somebody's saying a poem. It's like the water rolling the old language. You can say it, yes, but if you want to hear it and feel that water rolling and hear the fish in there, you say it in the old language, and it's there because it relied on you being there with the fish, not describing the fish or sitting here and talking. So it's different and that all fuels the drawing. If I were to draw a salmon it would be so boring you wouldn't like it. A biologist can draw a salmon, and put that fin back there, add that little chunk of cartilage that connotes salmonids. He can do that stuff. But when I go to the drawingboard I'm making a big smear, and I get a bunch of stuff. I'll show you later, my studio's just drifts of pastel dust and erasers. I use the eraser so much. And sometimes when I'm really frustrated and I can't get something going I just scoop up a handful of that dust and smear it on the paper. That puts a stain on it and I work into that. All of a sudden something works and there's this undulating form and I think oh, that's a fish. This I can work with.

LA: A good deal of your work is about the natural world.

RB: I want to get some information there that makes you think salmon or bass if I'm doing that. If it's a fish, I want you to get a sense of its moving in the water. And it's more gestural, like I had a wonderful term, gestural configuration. It's great! And Expressionism. When Joe Feddersen and Lillian Pitt started introducing me to the art circles, people compared me to Expressionists, neo-Expressionists, the German Kirchner, and those guys. Years later I got a book on Expressionism. I could see that and that was fair. But one of my all-time heroes too was Fritz Scholder, looking as a mixed blood, the kind of fire he walked in. He laid some ground. He did something really strong. You can't detract from people like Allan Houser and those people, but they were very classically oriented, whereas Fritz came along and kicked the bottom out.


"Wolf and Deer," 1993,
pastel and charcoal

Click link or on image to see larger size
**All images courtesy of the artists**
All images copyright of the artists
**All reproduction rights controlled by the artists**

Certain people loved it and certain people absolutely thought it was heresy and wanted to burn him at the stake. I'm trying to talk about mythology and stories and things and images and lines and drawings. What I love to do is draw. But I can't evade the fact that I'm white and I can't evade the fact that I'm Indian. How can you be anything but what you are? I also carve masks. I do everything I can do, I make rattles, bone harpoons, get into it all. I look at books and I sit out there with chunks of bone, filing it and thinking my thoughts while I do that. There's all kinds of ways you're supposed to do things and I try to follow those ways that I'm told at the time. Like the rattles, you don't see those in the galleries. That's used for the sweat lodge. I am emotional. That's what makes my work happen, and coming from a place where I try to stay on solid ground.

LA: Your work has been described as transformational, depicting moments of revelation where things are coming into being.

RB: There have certainly been some things that happened where the art has been prophetic, but again, I lay no claim to that. There's one creator who gives us certain gifts and come judgment you're going to be looked at for what you did with your gift, what you accomplished with your gift. My wife puts it a little more succinctly. She says shut up and do it. Don't talk about it, just do it. Sometimes I'm drawing things and a week or two later something's happened that directly relates to that. And it's scary. I don't say hey, that's cool. I say, oh man. I can't claim to really be very tickled about that. To find out that we are in a circle and that sometimes you tap into parts of that that is real scary. That's happened two or three times.

LA: A lot of your pieces depict dual or multiple figures, suggesting an interconnection between human and animal worlds. In Learning to Swim (1985) a face is emerging from a salmon's mouth. It looks like the bear in Big Bear VI has human arms.

RB: My friend Joe Feddersen has talked of earth-based relationships, and perhaps that forced me into thinking about these things, but then we're also back to the elders. We're not "above" anything; we are with things and, if anything, we are "below" things in the way that we operate. We can screw things up quicker than we can help things out. So consequently I'll show a bear with human hands or a bird flying with hands in her wings. With the salmon piece, we have a man inside. We are those things. If we don't eat, if we don't get food, we'll die. So we're in a relationship with them. In the salmon chant you're trying to bring something ritualistic back to life that's been gone for a hundred years or more, or trying to replace an honoring song for the fish or for the deer. As an artist this thing is around my head, it's inside of me, it's outside of me. It's a physical experience of seeing the fish, but when I come home it's a mental image of trying to remember what that was. When my uncle first got real sick, the fall run of salmon was coming up. There was a long time when I didn't want to go because the fish were having trouble with their immune systems, and it was an easy jump for me to see a friend of mine sick from AIDS and see the salmon suffering. So the transformation is not so much a transformation, but a literal representation that we are them, they are us, because we're in the same cesspool here right now, we've all got the same problem. Like at the sweat lodge, the animals are there, we are there, but in the center are things that I could tell you but I can't because they're not mine to give. But things have happened at the sweat lodge that indicate certain things to me that we're all in it together. And so I don't see the work as transformational as much as being literal.

LA: Other of your pieces have a darker look, like Naming Fear (1992), which shows an owl and a blurred human face, and Self Portrait with Hawk (1992).

RB: Looking at these images, it's my uncle and his passing. In Naming Fear I don't pretend to know all the ramifications of fear or what the person in the image felt. For me it was the eye on the owl, and the mouth was crying out, but it could also be singing in the sweat lodge. There's also a ladder going up to a cross-shaped star. Of course, it could be a very literal Judeo-Christian image of the cross. After my uncle was gone I found a book written around the turn of the century about Yurok people which talked about the wonderful place of ladders where we ascend to be with the creator. The ladder is an image of transition, of moving up or down. And so for me the ladder in Naming Fear was a traditional mythic element of transition and goodness in Yurok mythology. I certainly wish that my uncle was across the river in the good place. And Naming Fear is pretty literal, too. My uncle was sick and dying and I was afraid of losing him. I was afraid because what had happened to him had also happened to my father when I was five, and I was finally dealing with the whole thing. I don't know anyone who says hallelujah, let's all die, so Naming Fear was realizing that my uncle was sick and that I wasn't going to be able to save him. About three days before my uncle died a big hawk went through the area with some ravens.

I saw that and it told me right then what was going on. It was a cold winter day and I turned around and headed back for the house where my uncle was staying, at his sister's place, my aunt's. And I had foreknowledge then that this was it, we were coming upon his death. When my uncle passed I was a hundred miles from home, and as I drove every half a mile there was a big red-tail sitting on a post along the road. All the way until dark the hawks were with me. All the way, through the tears, the grieving was beginning. But the hawk was with me every inch of the way home until dark when I could no longer see him but I knew he was out there. So a lot of time the birds come in on that kind of imagery. They are very strong, showing the spirit was there.

LA: You use the image of birds quite a bit.

RB: I might be out back with my beautiful wife working on some basket materials, and my son's out there on a skateboard on the walk, and the neighbors are next door having a party, suddenly we all stop and look up and three hawks are back. There's a real nice hill up there where the wind evidently plays, because they all come in. Buzzard, hawk, eagle, everybody catches that draft there. They're here. They're present.

LA: Other works refer to your uncle's passing, like Boatman with Destination (1992) and In the Fog Upon a Rock (1991).

RB: My uncle worked on the river for years. My oldest uncle Bart, and Uncle Bob, my dad, my grandfather, they all worked on the river. And my mother's father, he worked on the railroad. But they all worked right around here and he used to tell me stories about he and old Effie Gustafson on the tugboat. They'd be taking a log raft and they'd get caught in the mud. So they'd sit in this little tug's cabin, the two of them, keeping their feet warm and eating sandwiches and drinking coffee until the tide would change and then they'd move on down the river. In the Fog Upon a Rock was about that. It is intense for a young man to have an older man tell him about things, and then to lose that. I wasn't ready then to say I'm a man. I wasn't ready to say go ahead, uncle, I can take over. I didn't think I ever would be. In that situation you're left in a real fog. And you're on a rock in a river, you're waiting for the tide to change. And hoping against hope that when the tide changed you'd know what to do.

LA: These have a specific autobiographical context.

RB: There were a few of those. In this one you see the ladder again, but it's at the end of my uncle's house. My uncle's lover and his oldest brother, my oldest uncle, and myself took two boats that were up at the end of the road. We took my uncle's remains across the slough in a basket and placed them where he wanted. I took as many traditional things I could put together and took his remains to this place. If indeed this is an autobiographical piece then I'm taking him back home. I like that.

LA: In addition to the pastels, you also carve, sculpt, and weave. Spirit Boat (1991) is willow and jute.

RB: If you could call it that. My wife got into basketmaking. She brought the materials home and then she started raising her own materials. We've been invited to give a joint exhibition in Japan next year for her baskets and my work. The late Larry Beck talked about an interview with an elder Inuit woman where she said about her art that she just moves things around here and there until it looks good and then it's done. I've heard this a number of times, so I think it's like wisdom of the ages. If you want to carve a duck decoy you just remove the wood that doesn't look like a duck. So my wife comes home with willow and I'm looking at the stuff and going hmmm, I think it's remarkable, Gail Tremblay, Joe Feddersen, myself, we've been doing fish traps now for two or three years, independently. For me it started as a dust devil, you know, and then we saw a coyote, and then this dust devil come over the hill and it was just cone-shaped, and in the end you invert that and you've got a fish trap. I saw some African masks so I made a couple pieces where I used Native American imagery mixed with African imagery mixed with sort of a Northern California fish trap shape, and I got all three of these things going together and I ended up with a big tall sculpture made out of willow with hand-carved elements to go with it. So I don't really claim too much to be a willow bender or a basketmaker, but I like to steal whatever I can use to muck around and come up with something. I just move it around until it looks good.

LA: Some of your early work has images of faces with masks falling away.

RB: It's very literal, cleaning up from alcoholism. Another thing I've said about my work is it's affordable therapy. I didn't realize it at the time but I drew myself straight. I drew stuff that a lot of people didn't want to look at. I'd be the last person to say oh, I'm going to be an artist. Everybody else knew it, but I didn't. I denied it. Kind of like Jonah and the whale. I denied the whole shooting match until I fell into it. My wife came to me one day and said, "I'm a little bit pregnant," and the next thing I knew I quit my job just when I needed it, but then the Jamison/Thomas Gallery came through with a contract, and somebody bought a mask. I had more money than I'd made in two months. I spent ten years working with handicapped kids in the public school system and took a year's leave of absence. My boss was the final straw. She said, "don't come back here, you've got to do your art." That's what I did. But the masks were falling away. I don't know where you are in your life, but for me, and I can only speak for me, and I can only say this: I'm not a missionary, I'm not a preacher, but the masks falling away were all these personas that I'd amassed to try to hide whoever I am in here. I'm still looking for that person, to be really honest, to be bluntly honest. I'm still looking to get to something that I'm really comfortable with. I'm okay in the world. I don't hurt and I don't get hurt too much. But I've got a lot of work to do. And these masks falling away were this guy with dark glasses on giving you a real attitude. The only thing was I didn't want you to talk to me because you might find out that I wasn't that way. I was weak, I was confused, so I'd put on all kinds of images, wear different clothes, weird stuff. Anything to keep you from getting close. And if you did get close and if I started feeling you were in there I'd get away from you so fast you wouldn't see me. I mean, I'd just flat leave you. So coyote, he comes in, with the capacity to screw things up and to do good. I'd give away cars. Then I'd walk for a couple of years until I'd get the money together again. I could give a car away that afternoon, but later on the anger wells up, about being stupid, about being something that I wasn't. Like coyote, sometimes you botch the job, but like raven, sometimes you find the sweat lodge in offbeat ways.

LA: Some of your masks are pretty interesting, like I Dreamed of a Dog Snapping at my Back as it Fell (1993) and One Night I Dreamed of a Dog (1993).

RB: He's got about three sets of mouths and was biting my heels. I remember that dream. I seldom remember dreams but I had one dream where this dog or wolf or coyote was snapping at my heels. I was going up a slope and he was going down, it was like we were out of control. So I gave him several mouths full of teeth, and sometimes I draw them with more mouths. A bear would sometimes have two or three mouths because of the ferocity. We think we're such hot stuff, but when we're confronted with the reality of that creature, that's the end of our Superman dream.

LA: You've done some self-portraits that seem to be based on your travels to Japan (Japan Sketch II, 1995) and Germany (Selbstbildnis III, 1994).

RB: I started out taking the family to Japan where we have an exhibition in a wonderful gallery in Urawa City, just outside of Tokyo. People flocked in and just had a great time. I went to the northwestern end of the Japanese Alps, to Yamanota, a village of eleven families above Oguni. It used to be an old paper-making village. Now it's rice farmers mainly. We spent about 3 weeks there, just my wife and son and I, and every weekend my friend Naoaki Sakamoto, an artist and paper-maker, sent somebody to kind of baby-sit us, take us to the grocery store, get us around and show us the sights. Then I spent ten days, something like that, in Frankfurt, and met my hero Horst Janssen, a German artist who just died in August [1995]. I got excited by the languages, the spaces between letters like the notes and the silences in a blackbird's song. Which is more important, the sound of the note or the space between? Calligraphy is like that for me. I realized it again in Japan and in Germany, looking at letters and words you can't understand. But then you see it as a formal design. So I started using those elements. I did this one with an "R" backwards (Selbstbildnis III) only to find out that that meant "self" or something in Russian. That was in that self-portrait. I've lived here in South Beach off and on all my life. All of a sudden I'm out in the world and I see that they write differently out there, so I get into it. I got a German dictionary to learned different words, and I put them in the work. Then I come home for a few more months and get on the plane with Lillian Pitt and bunch of people and go to New Zealand for a big get-together. Podunk fella from the sticks all of a sudden gets a ticket to the world, and the doors open up. I'm almost 50 and all this stuff is coming at me.

I'm a man of contradictions and differences, but these things are important to me no matter who I am, no matter what color I am. It gives me a way to consciously be aware of where I am today and what I am going to do with that day. Part of what I'm going to do is art. The key to the door was art. But beyond that, the key to the door was that the creator made me and I had some reason to be here and now I've got to find out. I've got to just keep snooping at that and be grateful for this day.

LA: You're also a musician and have a band called Cyrano and the Snubnose Dullards. You've written about your affinity to Chet Baker.

RB: Snubnose Dullards. Yeah. There's a good Indian name for you. We laugh like hell all the time. Music is another thing. We just played last night so my voice is nice and manly down here. My wife plays the bass, an old friend of ours plays the drums, and another the harmonica. I've got old guitars and a 1948 Fender amplifier. It looks like junk but it's just old, an old steel guitar, a hubcap guitar, the resonator kind. I like all this rhythm. That's what it is. I have some projects in the wind with the Native American writer and poet E. K. Caldwell. We've done some things that are more Native issue kind of things, but I just follow the spirit, what moves. But Chet Baker, getting back to that, the thing I liked about Chet Baker is he looked like one thing and sounded like another. He was a junkie but he sang those really sweet love songs and ballads. And yet he was on this self-destructive path that left him looking beaten up way before his time. But what came out of him was completely different. The wonderful part is to be able to use the color to make the image, so Chet Baker, to me, he's painting with baby blue and pink and what I call nursery room colors, kindergarten colors, he's blowing his horn that way, but he's really tough. He's had a lot of experiences that eventually took him down. So I feel a kind of a closeness there because I paint a dog fight with nursery room colors. I get your attention, number one, but number two, an ex-wife was involved with alternative kinds of healings and things that go into spirituality. She talked about the healing nature of color and suddenly the lights came on. So while somebody might like that wild gestural stuff going on they might also get something very calming from the color. That is the contrast that I thrive on.

LA: Although you're known for your use of color, a recent piece of yours, Victim II (1994), uses almost no color.

RB: It's using negative space. I love what isn't there. There's a real spook show for you. When you think about it, we're created by the spaces around our bodies. It's what's not there that makes us as much as what is there. But the Victim pieces are really spooky. It's a possibility for a poster child for Amnesty International because they're really pretty scary. I couldn't tell you what it concerned, I really couldn't. Bosnia, Viet Nam, it could be any of those things. I had an involvement in Viet Nam, not as a combatant, but I was very involved there and after a while started playing music in the hospitals. We'd not only do our end of it but we'd do the Vietnamese hospitals too, so you'd see the children who were napalmed, you'd see the multiple amputees, and on and on. Those things never go away. I came back and sat with my friends who had to deal with their pain. I had to deal with my survivor's guilt and deal with my irresponsibility at the time that led me to feel the way I felt about that involvement. The Siletz elder that I hang out with, Walt Klamath, is a Korean vet and he still talks about his experiences. Maybe these victim images are about that, but there's a possibility that they're the complete opposite. My friend William who was living actively and surviving with AIDS said that he would never be a victim. It was incredible, so maybe these images are about something the opposite way. Maybe I'm getting rid of my anger, dealing with resentments and feelings, I don't know.

LA: Do you usually work in series?

RB: When something comes along I do. There was a guy in a neighborhood south of us who had the little community held hostage with his insanity and his alcohol and drugs and these big dogs. And his girlfriend had fallen madly in love somewhere else. Come to find out he was another Nam vet who short-circuited. I was just going off to do a series of prints and it turned out to be about lovers as hostages. It looked like a bunch of sado-masochist stuff, but he had the whole community involved that way. Once in a while I hit something and I'll definitely go with it, but generally the first one is the best because it's the one that came out of nowhere. I'm like a miner; I hit a vein and I'll follow it. And as an artist who is incredibly blessed and lucky because I do nothing but art, I have to take a certain amount of product to the marketplace, which means I can't be just sitting down here making one groovy little drawing after another and then saying, well, I'll sell this one. I make a lot of drawings because I've been blessed to have a whole day to work. I used to have three separate lives in a day; it would drive you nuts. Now I've got three studios just outside the door, old sheds that I've made over and I kind of roll through them during the day. I think that I'm blessed that the manner in which I work sometimes creates a healing situation for the person seeing it. Drawing is like a really strange way of writing. You're still using lines and once in a while, every once in a while, a person will read the story that's there and just fall apart. It's really scary when people come to me crying or obviously shaken, when you know that you've bridged that superficial gap of taking product to the market when you've actually taken a work of art. But I'm setting things out so that someday my son will see more than what was here before. Maybe there'll be something there, just as those old rattles and the old totem poles worked for those people, maybe some of my images that embody true parts of mythology will last. Maybe some of those things will be worthy for some archivist to look at, for some grandchild to look at and it will lead them off to something that was lost. It's not just a personal kind of thing. Most of the things that are going to be good for us are things that we can share, that we can take back out to the community.

LA: You've said that "'I see myself as being in a chain that stretches way back to paintings on the rocks. To a certain degree I'm using different materials, but the statement is the same." 1

RB: It really was a pointed issue when I received my first major public commission with Saks Fifth Avenue. To me it's really funny. My friend John Stallings, who was my assistant, and I were in Saks Fifth Avenue at night in a big hole, like a giant cave, and we're up on scaffolding. I'm working on the wall in the middle of the night and we've got these lights shining on us, and we're laughing about it because you see those pictures of the guys in the cave and they're painting hunting rituals, they're painting animals. Here I am sitting in the dark with just a few lamps in a big hole. I'm in a strange place in the city trying to paint a picture. And the ultimate end is that I'll be given money so I can buy food, pay my bills and do other things. I see that as an analogy for why the old boys were doing painting, so that they might kill a buffalo or a deer and take it home to support their house and community. Maybe it's grandiose. But to me it was clear that that's what was going on. The elder says culture that's in the museum is dead. Living culture has a television set blasting and a hot rod in the front yard and you've got to worry about your teenage kid, but you're still living a life that's old because you have a reverence for certain things and a certain way of life and you hold certain things to be true. So culture has to move on or it's just a museum piece. It's dead; it's something that people look at but don't understand. Up there on that ceiling is a line that's moving on and part of it is moving through me. No more than anybody else. I'm not tooting my horn. I'm just saying that I think for modern day artists it's the same thing.

LA: Some of your work in the [October] 1995 exhibition at the Froelick Adelhart Gallery in Portland seemed to be a departure from earlier work.

RB: It certainly is a jump. It's a change-up. I was doing a lot of things that were initially stimulated, I thought, by the trips to Japan, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada. However, my friend William, my agent for ten years, was dying and I didn't want to go back and do the things that I can do when I'm heavy with the graphite. I didn't want to do that for myself and I didn't want to take that personal tragedy and sadness to a public place. I think I wanted to take something to the public that would indicate that William was a beautiful person, a wonderful person, all those things that we say about somebody whose demise is a loss. I didn't want to indicate even a drop of sorrow. I wanted something that was uplifting. We all know that AIDS is a sad plague of our time, but William would wire flowers to the openings of my shows because he knew that one of the elders had talked about how evil and darkness don't like beauty, don't like sweet things, don't like pleasant smells. All these things are deterrents to evil, to darkness. So my friend William would send flowers. I drew a few flowers when I was down in the Caribbean but I was drinking at the time and would seldom use the self-discipline to follow it up. I found flowers in Horst's work when I saw it in Japan in Naoaki's collection. When I came home I was really stimulated by his work. So the show that's up now has lots of flowers, but more than that it has lots of words. Some of them come from diaries of my last visits with my friend William, and to keep somebody from delving into my sadness I wrote over the top of my writing and painted over my writing so that the words became illegible. They're there physically, you can see them, and I know what they are, and I don't care if anybody else knows what they are, but for me it was a therapeutic tool. I could write everything out, I could cry, I could feel happy, I could feel whatever emotions were coming out as I wrote in my studio at night, and then the next day paint over the top of it. If it was only a short thought, I'd write that out and then write right over the top of it and then over the top of that so that it became an unintelligible mass of squiggles. Then I came on something in German, like "Sketches as My Friend Lays at Death's Door," and I would actually write that out in German. If a person knew German they could dig out some of that but if you didn't you're just looking at shapes and textures, the refinement of drawing from cave walls to today. To me it's an unbroken line of transformation. That's all it is. I'm just using very fine art ways of drawing the deer on the cave wall. It's all the same to me, it's an unbroken chain that goes right through you and on down to the seventh generation before you. You know it's coming, as long as you keep doing it.

LA: As you look over the body of your work, what are your thoughts?

RB: I'm constantly sharpening my facilities and my faculties. I can draw pretty much whatever I want to draw, but really what I want to draw is nothing like that. What I'm after are the things that come through, that I could draw if I were blind. What I'm looking for are images with emotion and power. I can't create that. I can't do that on call. I can draw anything from my shoes to the side of your head, but what can I draw that's going to make a difference? That's what I'm looking for. You have to draw an incredible amount to make people cry, or to make a crying person laugh, but that's what I want to do, and I've been able to do that, I think, with the creator's help. But again I can't take the credit for that. I can take the credit for going out to work every day, but the credit for the work goes someplace else. The really powerful ones are so strange, so wonderfully strange, and the way that they affect people gives me an indication that something's going on that's greater than the parts. A friend of mine tells me to just do the work, don't bother with explanations, don't bother quizzing yourself. Somebody someday will explain it all.

1 Timothy White, "Out of the Darkness: The Transformational Art of R. E. Bartow." Shaman's Drum, No. 13 (Summer, 1988): p. 18.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

Native Streams, group exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL, 1996

Solo exhibition, Froelick Adelhart Gallery, Portland, OR, 1995

 Contemporary Totems, group exhibition, Bush Barn Art Center, Salem, OR, 1995

 Four Songs to Sing, solo exhibition, Gallery of Tribal Art, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1994

 My Eye, Your Eye, solo exhibition, Jamison/Thomas Gallery, Portland, OR, 1994

 Werke auf Papier, solo exhibition, Peiper-Riegraf Gallery, Frankfurt, Germany, 1993

 Wings and Sweat, solo exhibition, Jamison/Thomas Gallery, Portland, OR, 1992

 The Submuloc Show/Columbus Wohs, group exhibition, ATLATL, Phoenix, AZ, 1992

 Without Boundaries: Contemporary Native American Art, group exhibition, Jan Cicero Gallery, Chicago, IL, 1991

 4th Biennial Native American Fine Arts Invitational, group exhibition, The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ, 1989

 Portfolio: Eleven American Indian Artists, group exhibition, American Indian Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1986

 SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

E. K. Caldwell, "Bartow: Conversation with an Artist." Inkfish (June, 1994): pp. 3-5, 17.

Cheryl Hartup, "Profile: Rick Bartow." Visions (Winter, 1993): pp. 46-47

David Becker, "The Visionary Art of Rick Bartow: Works 1986-1992," in Wings and Sweat. Portland, OR: Jamison/Thomas Gallery, 1992, pp. 5-7.

Doug Marx, "Man Behind the Mask." Oregon Magazine (March/April, 1988): pp. 37-39.

Abby Wasserman, "R. E. Bartow," in Portfolio. San Francisco: American Indian Contemporary Arts, 1986.

To Top