I feel that the Q&A with Dead Feather was a success. We had seven people attend, four of them I knew and three of them Josh (Dead Feather) knew. This is the first strictly Q&A gathering that I've helped host at Wholeshot. It was Josh's idea, and I was excited that he was willing to take the risk to do it. (He was super motivated to get the word out and made two incredible pieces of art as promotion.) I consider it a risk because I never know who will show up, if anyone, and what their response will be. My intent of course is to facilitate an environment that allows the artist to feel seen, heard and supported, but when we open it up to the public, some of that is out of my control. Also a Q&A necessitates a crowd that is engaged and wants to have dialogue, otherwise there is a lot of sitting and staring at each other. It was a "fingers crossed" sort of endeavor.
This is how we ran the two hour window of time. We allowed people to arrive and get a drink and have some meet and greet conversation. This lasted about 30 minutes. Then Josh did an introduction of himself and his artwork after which he opened it up to questions, which at times turned into a joint discussion. The time ended with people mingling and checking out the art. We had a tip jar, dolls and prints for sale, small giveaway books for those attending and Dead Feather donated a painting to giveaway in a drawing. Unfortunately we forgot to do the drawing at the event and did it after in the car ride home and then contacted the winner via Instagram.
Josh's art is focused on telling his story of cultural assimilation. He is from the Muskogee Creek/Seminole Native American Tribe, and his grandfather was forced to learn English via reading the Christian Bible and later became a preacher himself. By the time Josh was born there was no one in his direct family that spoke Muskogee Creek, and he has had to piece his history back together as best he can.
His art shows what a dark road that has been both for him and for Native Americans throughout history as they were systematically given less and less land to live on while also being stripped of their own culture. I get the feeling when I look at Josh's art that he is creating a museum of artifacts that otherwise wouldn't exist or would be near impossible to find because of how thoroughly his culture was wiped away. Besides painting this includes handmade dolls, masks of deities, and books to teach his dying language.
Due to the subject matter the conversation was mainly serious and all those in attendance were opened to learning as well as being entirely supportive of Josh's work. One man asked, "Have you reconciled with the white man?" and "How can I help?"
Josh spoke of his own peace and love, but also of his relentless pursuit to share the truth of this part of history. The way to help is to educate, to open up the dialogue so more and more are exposed to what cultural assimilation is.
Josh was open to having his art critiqued. He posed the question, "What could I do to be more successful in generating interest in my work?" He shared with us that at one point he had his art on tour with some other local Native American artists, but he was "let go" when it was determined his art wasn't "pop" enough.
I asked, what does "pop" even mean?
We discussed Andy Warhol a bit and then another artist that was present, Lawrence Naff, brought up a good point. He talked about how pop art is what sells well, what has been considered popular or in pop culture. Around here that means buffalo, bison, feathers, arrows, a Native American face with a feather. People are comfortable purchasing art that they know has been culturally approved as popular. Art is intimidating to many and they feel like they can't trust their own intuition on what makes good art or bad art for their home.
Josh later summed it up this way:
"I know you probably need someone from a big corporation like Time Magazine, MTV, Disney, NBC etc., (which are all probably owned by the same company) to tell you what good art is or what is considered art. It's comfortable and familiar. I know. I'm here to tell you, it's ok to like whatever YOU consider art. So, get out there and support your local artists. I can assure you they are working hard to expose you to a truth you can align yourself with."
I mentioned that I thought people often buy art because they want something pretty, not necessarily something meaningful. The theme of Dead Feather is not inherently a pretty story in history. It is rather a series of unfortunate events that stripped a people group of their stories, their art, their way of life, their home. As Josh said, "My art is dark because the topic is dark."
One man in a Bukowski shirt spoke up and said, "I for one like your art because it is dark. It is different. It stands out. That's what draws me to it. There is more going on here."
"I second that," I said. The others at the forum nodded or voiced their agreement.
Later, smiling I told my new acquaintance, "Anyone wearing a Bukowski shirt is always welcome at Wholeshot,"
Josh is a very talented artist and wildly prolific. He later, after the event, took me and my husband on a studio tour at his home, his kitchen so full of paintings it is almost unusable. Another half finished piece sat on an easel, as if paused mid stroke so Josh could attend the Q&A before jumping right back in.
The studio, thick with the smell of incense, had an intensity to it. He isn't stopping. In Josh's words, the art of Dead Feather has to continue because there are just too many people who don't know, who don't understand, who haven't considered another story besides the story that is popular.
My husband and I left Josh's home feeling alive with possibility. How can we have more events like this? How can we support artists, the ones that we personally connect with, like Josh. How can Wholeshot be not just about quality drinks, but also the warm way by which we host people and connect them to meaningful art in a way that is approachable and not intimidating.
The forum ended with others reiterating this excitement.
"We need more events like this."
"Thank you for putting this together."
"I look forward to the next one."
A friend of mine that was present at the Q&A told me, "You're good at this - introducing people to each other. Helping people meet. Connecting artists."
It was so meaningful to hear. I told her, "As much as I love making art myself, I also enjoy connecting artists to one another so they can feel inspired and empowered to continue following their heart and making their work. I need to not be so hard on myself. It's okay to not be making my art all the time. This is equally as important, and it means so much to me."
After this Q&A I had some new things to consider: Which am I more passionate about - the quantity of artists showing in our little gallery or the quality? Can I take this slow, letting it all unfold organically based on the people who are put in my path. I don't necessarily want more and more and more artists to feature in Wholeshot as much as I want a connection and progression with the ones I know. Maybe this is why some gallery owners partner exclusively with a few artists.
I love that I am beginning to connect with an intimate gathering of artists who are open to brainstorming more ideas for our community. We are going to meet this weekend to do just that. There are a few, like me, who believe in the power of art as a personal practice and want to see others lives open up to the power of art.
So here is what the Q&A solidified for me. I am okay with small. I am okay with slow. I am okay with risk. I am okay with challenge. I am okay with learning through doing. With all that I have done in my life thus far, art remains front and center in my life. It has made reckless pursuit of me, and I gladly concede, for it is art that gives my life meaning. I will try and try and try, fail and succeed and try again. And actually, this is the way of the artist.
Already a poet, on December 26 of 2012 Josh decided to also be a visual artist, to breathe life into the Dead Feathers of Muskogee Creek/Seminole heritage. That night he jumped headfirst into painting wood donated to him from his janitor job at the time. Since that time the art remains a constant.
I think of his kitchen studio, so picturesque with his half finished painting. His trying to say it one more time in one more way. I believe this captures the art spirit so eloquently.