by John Lukavic. Denver Art Museum; DelMonico, May 2015. 144 p. ill. ISBN 9783791354552 (cl.), $45.00.
Reviewed November 2015
The paintings and prints in Fritz Scholder's Indian series were a bold response to the idealized, static, and cliché representations of Native Americans that previously had dominated the genre. Through the use of wildly vibrant colors and striking portrait compositions, Scholder charged his creations with unprecedented emotion while often bringing his viewers uncomfortably close to the heart-breaking tragedies and identity crises that have become hallmarks of contemporary Native American life.
The essays brought together in this exhibition catalog by scholars, along with contributions from Scholder's art students and peers, offer a fresh and balanced perspective of a complex and at times contradictory character. Scholder was ethnically one quarter from the Luiseño tribe of Southern California, yet he was not raised in a traditional style and famously vowed to never paint Indians. Although the timing of his Indian series coincided with widespread civil rights and social justice movements, Scholder never aligned himself with any of these and only wanted to set the record straight through his "real, not red" art. As personal as it appeared, organizing curator John Lukavic points out that Scholder's subject matter remained secondary in importance to, and fundamentally a vehicle for, his intense fascination with color and expression. Eric Berkemeyer's thoughtful account of Scholder's exploration into lithography as a practice for testing and expanding his formal limits nicely reinforces this idea. Whether maddening, bewildering, and/or simply electrifying, viewing the Indian series is a deeply visceral experience, and its magic lies in Scholder's special knack for composition, color, and gestural brushwork.
Other essays dive further into Scholder's influences and contributions. Jessica L. Horton's piece is the first to examine the consequences of Scholder's travel on his work, including a brief but surprising stint as a Cold War cultural diplomat. Artist Brad Kahlhamer insists that Scholder's Pop-inspired art will continue to resonate with younger generations who relate especially well to his freeform method of mixing and sampling source material. Meanwhile, Scholder's former students offer insightful recollections of the developing artist from time spent under his tutelage at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
In addition to the essays, the forty-two dazzling plates in this catalog should captivate longtime fans and newcomers alike. The book's bright pink end sheets and lime/orange jacket color scheme mirror the psychedelic palette favored by the artist. A testament to the ability of Scholder's art to transcend usual classification, this significant book earns a spot on the shelf in any library interested in the art of our time.