Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seeing More than the Homelands

“I allow myself to absorb influences and allow those influences
to shift my own perspective on things.”
Jeffrey Gibson

For the Native American artist Jeffery Gibson the influences that have shaped his life and his work are many and varied ranging from a nomadic childhood as an ‘Army Brat’ to being a gay artist in New York.

As he told The Wild Magazine last year “Of course I do make choices about my environment and am aware that those choices somewhat curate my influences. I pay attention to some political conversations, to queer culture, to music culture, to fashion, to education, to people older and wiser than myself, and to people younger than myself.

With a Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry, Gibson was born in Colorado. His father was a member of the US defense forces and Gibson formative years saw him living in both Korea and Germany. He went on to obtain his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Art Institute of Chicago and his Master’s from the Royal College of Art in London. He currently lives in New York.

As he explained to the Contemporary Native Artists blog “Moving around for the majority of my life influenced my work in many different ways. I did not realize that I was nomadic in so many senses. I don’t have “roots” anywhere in a physical sense and have always considered where I currently live “home”. The experience has made definitions of home, place, identity, time, and culture very complex and multi layered for me. I have also been influenced by the varying aesthetics of each place. Some have had specific cultural aesthetics, language barriers, cultural barriers, and etcetera. These differences funnel through me, a queer Native male born toward the end of the 20th century and entering the 21st century. I consider this hybrid in the construction of my work and attempt to show that complexity."

Working with both painting and sculpture, Gibson is impelled by the notions of assumption and stereotype that relate to his heritage and the parallels between modern abstraction and the images inherent in tribal design.

About which he has said “I consider myself an abstract process based artist and am always intrigued by the relationship between image and abstraction... I [also] think of myself as a contemporary artist who is a number of things - one of the primary things is being Native. Sometimes this term complicates the work in interesting ways and other times it just complicates the work unnecessarily. It is a powerful term that can overshadow any artwork and it is not usually the primary content of my work… There is a separation between contemporary Indigenous artists and the rest of the art world. That is evident by the lack of inclusion or the awareness of Indigenous artists in any mainstream arts media. The larger Native community has shared concerns regarding community, inclusiveness, tradition, tribal definitions, family, place, written histories, language, etcetera - that are not shared by other communities. There is a real and perceived distance between the primary concepts and methods used in each. It is slowly changing, but the question is always about how this new found recognition will change things within our communities.

And it is a change that Gibson is helping to facilitate.

As ArtNew’s Cynthia Nadelman observed in her 2007 essay Tribal Hybrids “Gibson exemplifies the way this new generation of Native artists has managed to carve out a middle ground between honoring their heritage and creating art that functions in any context.”

Gibson’s current self-titled exhibition is on show at New York’s Marc Straus gallery until the 13th of December.

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