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For the week of June 14 through June 20, 2000

One part pop art,
two parts Crow

The contemporary paintings of Crow Indian artist Kevin Red Star in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Contemporary art that glorifies the American cowboy abounds. Contemporary art that does the same for Native Americans, however, is less common.

Kevin Red Star, a Crow Indian artist, celebrates the cultural history of his nomadic, plains tribe with his powerful, stylized, dramatically lit paintings.

For its grand opening, Ketchum’s Anam Cara Gallery exhibits Red Star’s work. A reception with the artist will be held Saturday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the gallery, located on Sun Valley Road adjacent to the Ketchum Post Office. Also, the gallery holds a "Conversation with the Artist" on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

"My work is expressionistic and a little contemporary," the soft-spoken Red Star said in an interview from a friend’s ranch in southern Montana. "But each and every piece has an element of crow symbolism or something that’s identifiably Crow."

Red Star was born in 1943 and raised in the Crow reservation town of Lodge Grass, Mont., on the Little Big Horn River.

"I was nurtured in an environment of artists," he said.

His father, Wallace Red Star, was a musician and would hold regular jam sessions with other Crow musicians at the Red Star home. Wallace Red Star died four years ago.

His mother, Amy Bright Wings, 84, is a renowned powwow costume designer and bead worker.

While still in high school and at the age of 16, Red Star was selected to be one of the first students at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Santa Fe, N.M. There, he joined a circle of artists hailing from 80 tribes across the nation.

At the IAIA, Red Star said he got turned on to then cutting edge work of pop artists like Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. It was also where he was first exposed to the art traditions of other tribes.

"We incorporated our cultural designs into the pop art work," Red Star said. "At the time, Indian art was two-dimensional and flat. We went way beyond that. It was really an explosive time for me."

After graduation, he studied further at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he immersed himself in postmodern art. He returned to Montana and studied art at Montana State University and Eastern Montana College.

Today, Red Star’s paintings and mixed media works are represented in the collections of every major institution of Western art, including the National Museum of the American Indian, the Heard Museum, the Southwest Museum, the Whitney Museum of Western Art, the IAIA Museum, the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of the Rockies.

Red Star said he acts as a kind of ambassador for Crow culture. He visits museums and reservation schools, where he promotes the arts and encourages Native American students to pursue art.

He also travels regularly to powwows, dances and other rituals, which become source material for his art.

"I pick up so many things from my travels and readings," he said. "I’m still, like a student, discovering new ideas. I take those ideas and, in my work, set my own stage for a new idea."

The Montana art community benefits from his passion for the arts in an unusual way. Every summer he throws a huge party near his home for friends, family, artists and art collectors. It’s a tradition he said he borrowed from the artist communities he lived with in New Mexico. As many as 700 people have shown up at the annual gathering, which features Crow dancers and drummers and food.

This year, he’s holding the event on Oct. 9, his 57th birthday.


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