Native American painter Nocona Burgess exhibits at Rainmaker Gallery

Native American Artist Nocona Burgess Visits Bristol for Solo Exhibition at Rainmaker Gallery. Below is the press release for this exhibition, which I wrote, and then co-edited with the director of the gallery.

“White Belly” acrylic on canvas by Nocona Burgess for Rainmaker Gallery, Bristol UK.

Nocona Burgess pushes American Indian portraiture forward with strikingly modern depictions of people from tribal Nations of the Southern Plains.

Powerful portraits of Native American Indians by Comanche artist Nocona Burgess will be presented at Rainmaker Gallery, Bristol, from 16 July to 30 September 2015. These paintings mix careful research, firsthand knowledge and raw passion. Through combining brightly coloured shapes with crisply outlined facial features and traditional dress, Burgess explores the cultural context, life story and identity of each sitter. In this way, the artist urges us to update our perceptions of Native people and consider the intriguing and often highly politicised place of Native American portraiture.

Nocona Burgess, his wife Danielle and his son Quahada, will visit Bristol for a two-week residency, resulting from an ongoing collaboration between Rainmaker Gallery and the American Museum in Britain. During this residency the artist will attend the exhibition opening; teach workshops on colour theory; and give talks about his art, his life and his legendary family history.


“Huuinu Waiipu – Timber Woman”, acrylic on canvas by Nocona Burgess (Comanche) for Rainmaker Gallery, Bristol UK.

Burgess is a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. He is the son of a former tribal chief and the great great grandson of one of the most revered Native American leaders, Chief Quanah Parker. Burgess grew up surrounded by art. His father went to art school to focus on drawing and painting, and his grandparents made quilts and beadwork from their own designs.

In 1989, Burgess fully developed his artistic talents at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. He was fascinated by how more traditional forms of Native art evolve into contemporary movements. This fascination came to define his focus, leading him to reinterpret traditionally inspired portraits with his own modern slant. It is the notion of the modern Indian that he seeks in his work and recognises in himself.

By painting with vibrant pigments onto dark backgrounds Burgess has perfected a method that he describes as “painting outward”. This approach produces the richly contrasting colours of his distinctive canvases and gives his art a vivid depth. Burgess’ paintings inspire and educate through their unusual techniques and positive dialogues between past and present.

Painting for Burgess is a way of reaching out to others. He strives for an intimate connection with each subject, eager to know their characters. Through his paintings Burgess says thank you to his ancestors for their sacrifices in helping to make the contemporary Native identity what it is today.

Burgess’ paintings have received numerous awards and have been featured in many publications. He exhibits throughout the USA and beyond and this summer alone sees his paintings in Australia, England and America. They can also be found in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. His numerous collectors include the actor Johnny Depp.

Situated on the border of Redland and Westbury Park in North Bristol, Rainmaker Gallery is the UK showcase for the very best in contemporary Native North American Indian art and design. Founded in 1991 by Joanne Prince, to provide an authentic Native American Indian voice in the UK, Rainmaker promotes awareness, education and cultural exchange through artist talks, events and exhibitions. The gallery exhibits original paintings, drawings and fine art prints and carries a superb collection of high quality handmade American Indian jewellery, Zuni fetish carvings and Pendleton blankets.

New pop-up gallery in Clifton Village

As part of The Young Arnolfini group we blog about events, opportunities and anything related to art in Bristol (and sometimes beyond). This post is one of my contributions to the Young Arnolfini blog – which can be found at the following link: http://youngarnolfini.wordpress.com

I have often thought there is not much in the way for students and young people within the Clifton Village art scene. However, this summer a new contemporary Pop-up, aptly called ‘LITTLEWHITESPACE’, has emerged. Located on Clifton Down Road in-between WHSmith and the old antique shop, it offers an accessible space for hosting exhibitions, galleries and launch events of which there are many this summer.

At the moment an exhibition of the artist Abigail McDougall’s work is on display. Her paintings have featured in several magazines including Vogue and Art of England, and last year she was selected as an Artist Member of the RWA.

She mostly has watercolour paintings on display, depicting different scenes around Bristol – notably of the Harbourside. The way she depicts the reflections of Bristol buildings in the water is beautiful. She uses many different blocks of colour to indicate the reflections, which conveys movement and depth in a layering effect. Additionally, the types of brushstrokes used vary from crisp, thin lines to thick, blurring smudges. This gives an interesting contrast between realistic accuracy and an almost tangible blurring of pure colour that reminds us of the painting’s materiality and the medium used to create it.

McDougall’s watercolours are striking for the way she chooses bright, invigorating colours. In the past, I have sometimes been uncertain about whether watercolours as a medium can capture scenes of modern urban life, yet in McDougall’s work the watercolours seem fresh, vibrant and modernised. This makes the Bristol scenes seem very sunny and rather tranquil.

Another striking thing about the artist’s work is the way areas of the paper have been left white. Apart from this being a watercolour technique for suggesting highlights and reflections, it has the effect of increasing the feeling of space within the scenes depicted. It invites us as viewers to become involved with the paintings and the scenes depicted by encouraging our imaginations to ‘fill in’ the ‘blank’ areas.

The paintings in acrylic and oils initially have a slightly brash palette, but do convey a lot of energy and vigour. It is refreshing to see Bristol in this colourful and almost carnival-esque light. In particular, the acrylic and oil painting called ‘Bristol from Cabot Tower’ gives mythic (and almost turbulent) dreamscape of Bristol.

It was great to be surrounded by such positivity – and positivity associated with Bristol. The exhibition definitely felt like a celebration of this city. Along the same lines is a fun exhibition entitled ‘Balloons in Bristol’, starting at LITTLEWHITSPACE on 8th August (until 11th). It will celebrate the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. It is refreshing that the exhibitions at LITTLEWHITESPACE are so pertinent and relevant to Bristol and the current events going on within this city.

Anthony Whishaw’s ‘Green Landscape’ painting 1970

This piece is adapted from a public talk I gave to over forty people at one of the Leamington Spa Art Gallery’s ‘Friday Focus’ weekly art talks.

Anthony Whishaw was born in 1930, and is still a practicing artist today. He has tended to paint in series throughout his artistic career, with many paintings taking years to complete. However, although there have been overlaps in terms of form and themes because of this, his style has changed a lot over the years. Some paintings appear quite traditional and are done in oil on canvas in an impressionistic style, while much of his later work is very abstract and textured, and uses found objects to create reliefs and texture variation. This technique gives a very urban and industrial feel to some of his work.

Whishaw was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. This was an art movement that emerged in the early 1940s, primarily in New York – where a small group of artists introduced radical new directions in art. These artists included people like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. They broke away from accepted conventions in both technique and subject matter due to the primarily abstract nature of the work, making monumentally scaled pieces that were reflections of their individual psyches. Rothko himself once said: ‘I paint big to be intimate’. Although the scale of their work can feel overwhelming, the viewer is enveloped by their experience of confronting the paintings, which can feel like a personal and totalizing engagement with the art.  Continue reading