February 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Fritz Scholder’s death, which should give us pause to appreciate his crucial role in redefining Native American art. Through hundreds of paintings, drawings and graphics that not only question Native American stereotypes, but also shed light on American culture and society as a whole, Scholder became celebrated internationally, and today — in any examination of visual artists with strong Arizona ties — he is arguably the most famous.
Several Arizona museums display Scholder’s work, either as part of permanent displays or themed exhibitions. The online art collection at the Heard Museum, for instance, is a good way to glimpse his work. But even better is the current show at Larsen Gallery in Scottsdale, which has been a wonderful repository of his work for several years. On view through March 2015, the show offers recognizable works, along with a few surprises. Among my favorites are: “Indian with One Eye” (1975), a commanding 80-by-68-inch oil on canvas with a feather-adorned Native American face on an orange background (Scholder never shied away from bold expanses of color); “Galloping Indian After Leigh” (1978), an etching depicting a darkened rider on a white-faced horse, a work that is spare in its composition yet gives a sense of movement; and “Not Alone #11” (2001), a large oil on canvas with a stylized depiction of a couple in modern clothing, enjoying an intimate embrace.
I was curious as to how many of the pieces on view at Larsen are overtly “Indian,” or at least have that word in the title, and counted 17, as opposed to nine works with no apparent Indian theme. The Denver Art Museum, which will open “Super Indian: Fritz Scholder, 1967–1980,” on October 4, 2015, explains how the artist transcends labels by saying: “Fritz Scholder once vowed never to paint Indians. He claimed he was not an American Indian artist, but he was. He claimed his art was not political, but it polarized the art world. For every position he took, he also explored the opposite perspective.” The exhibition will reveal how Scholder blended figurative and pop art, how he raised controversy with his depictions of Indians, and how his portraits often evoked a certain psychological effect. From Denver, the show will travel to our own Phoenix Art Museum (Feb. 26, 2016–June 5, 2016) and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas (June 23, 2016–Sept. 18, 2016).
Scholder, who was of Luiseño descent, divided his time between Santa Fe, N.M., and Scottsdale in his later years. He became a fixture in our local art scene, showing at a number of prestigious galleries, and in the mid-1990s was the subject of major shows at the Phoenix Art Museum and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Also, there’s a huge Scholder painting right at the check-out station of the downtown Burton Barr location of the Phoenix Public Library — a nice way to recognize Scholder’s place in Arizona art history.
My thanks to Larsen Gallery for the images in this slide show: