Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Childhood


Star Wallowing Bull 3rd Grade

Earlier this year, I took a trip to Minneapolis to visit my family and friends. I stopped by my cousin Ed's house. All of Ed's children were there. It was good to see everyone again. We started talking about old times and had a few laughs. Then Ed started to talk about a pressure washer I had apparently stole from a painting company, Super Painters, back in the early 1990's. I completely forgot about that. For years, Ed and some of the super painters accused me of stealing this pressure washer. They constantly laughed about it over the years as well. I told them right from the beginning, I did not steal it, and yet no one seems to believe me. It's like trying to tell a bunch of monkeys you didn't steal it. This story continues to change every time I hear it from someone. They should've figured it out by now that I didn't steal it. I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do. During my years of my recovery I have stepped up to the plate and confessed my wrong doings and lies but yet some people just don't believe me, even if you're family. This topic is annoying and down right stupid. They seem to be stuck in the some old conversation with me. Today,I like to engage in an intelligent conversation and have a few laughs. But I have to accept that they will never change even if the truth is looking right at them in the face.

After leaving my cousin's house, I started to look back into my childhood. I was an easy target since I was a little boy. As far back as I can remember, it all started in grade school. I was picked on by bullies and girls. I was small for my age and I was an easy target. These bullies would perform wrestling moves on me, push me, spit on me, lie to the teacher to get me in trouble and later laugh about it. Most of the time, the teacher would believe them over my sworn honesty. I would have to take a time-out for something I didn't do. These bullies would take turns on who would steal my lunch. I often went hungry during my grade school years. Crying at school was normal for me. When I got home I would often cry alone. I didn't tell my teachers, father or grandmother about my problems. I didn't want to get in trouble by the bullies so I stayed silent.

The girls on the other hand hated me, so I thought. When a group of girls were together they would look at me and giggle. I thought they were making fun of me or of something bad about me and this really made me feel bad. Some of the girls would chase me screaming like a crazy person and sometimes when they caught me, they would pull my hair, slap me and scream and then proceed to runaway. I cried a few times due to this insane behavior. I tried to stay away from the girls as much as possible but I do admit, I became girl crazy ever since. I really did look forward to art class because the girls would want to sit by me during times of creation. They really loved my art! Even the bullies I hated, loved my art. I found peace and serenity in my art class & that's were I met my first girlfriend. She was such a sweet girl and became very protective of me. She was attracted to the flowers I would draw for her. I have always wondered about her whereabouts to this day. Few of the boys didn't like the attention I was receiving so they took advantage of my talent and threatened to beat me up if I didn't draw them something. I mostly drew cars and guns for them just so they would stop threatening me. During this time, I met a Chinese boy and we became friends. I asked him to teach me karate to get back at the bullies in exchange for a drawing. But here I was racial profiling him expecting that all Chinese people knew karate. Now that I think about it, he didn't know karate, but I gave him a drawing anyway. I can recall one boy punching me in the face because I didn't draw the right tires on his car. I was too scared to tell on him or even to defend myself. I often imagined myself coming to school with a green light-saber and killing these bullies. This went on during my grade school years. I had gotten to a point were I didn't want to attend school at all! So I started to skip school at an early age of seven.

When I skipped school, I often went to the Mississippi River on the west bank of Minneapolis between the Franklin Avenue and the Lake Street bridges. I loved to explore the wooded areas and walk on the cat-walks underneath the bridges which were very dangerous. I would also explore the sewer systems against the Mississippi west bank cliffs with a flash light and a home-made spear just in case the rats got too close. I was fascinated with how big these rats were until I saw a rat as big as a house cat! I ran out of the tunnels crying and I never went back. I would often catch a city bus to the Minneapolis Art Institute which had free admission. I loved looking at the wide variety of art on display. I was more drawn to the abstract paintings. It was around that time I was often confused about what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was either a taxi cab driver and artist like my father, or an ice cream truck driver. I walked all over the Minneapolis/ St.Paul area looking to explore with all of my curiosity. I would often check out the local art stores and wish for art supplies. I started to steal color pencils, pens and other supplies from the art stores. I became a little thief. I knew it was wrong, but I thought if nobody knew, it was okay. I didn't have very much parental guidance. My father was too busy working and my grandmother was busy as well. After a week or two had gone by after skipping school, the school called my grandmother. They asked where I was because I wasn't in school. So with the "strong" guidance of my grandma, I went back to school. But skipping school continued to go on during the rest of the school year until summer came and I became more out going and adventurous again.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Fawn and I were pretty much raised by our grandmother in the Southeast projects of Minneapolis. My grandmother volunteered at a thrift store called the Free Store. I was often complimented on how well I dressed by my teachers and often asked me where I shopped for my clothing.
I hesitated..... and said K-mart, which I was too embarrassed to admit where I really got my clothes. Unfortunately, my school bus drove past the Free Store five days a week. I tried not to look at the Free Store while we drove by until my grandmother was standing outside the store and she was blowing kisses at me. All the kids finally knew where I got my clothes. I was continually teased throughout the rest of the school years. Now I really didn't want to go to school. I know now, my grandmother meant no wrong. She was just happy to see me. I can laugh about it now.

Around the same time, I lived right by my cousin Marcel. We were best friends, brothers and cousins. We hung out everyday and got into mischief. We threw eggs and rocks over the fence at my father's taxi company right across the street from where we lived. We stole Star Wars, He-Men and GI Joe action figures at the local Target store. We dangerously ran along and hung onto the steel ladders of trains while in motion, until the police chased us away. We rode our bikes all over Minneapolis/St.Paul in search of other bikes to steal. The cat walks underneath the Franklin Avenue bridge were our favorite place to have fun. Walking along the cat walks and hanging off of them with our bare hands was a lot of fun. I'm relieved none of us got hurt or killed. Marcel was more of a risk taker. He was always willing to test out something dangerous before I did. It was quite a rush for us. Throwing rocks at cars from the bridges onto I-94 was an almost daily routine for us. We damaged a lot of cars and trucks during this insane time of our lives. We were eventually chased away by the police. My first encounter with the law was when I was eight years old and I was caught throwing rocks at cars by a police woman. She applied the handcuffs behind my back and sat me in the back seat of her squad car. I was crying so hard I started to hiccup. I thought I was going to jail for a very long time. I promised to the police woman I would never do it again. She took pity on me and gave me a hug, but I could tell she was still upset with me. She told me never to do it again or she would really take me to jail. That was the last time I ever threw a rock at a car.

Marcel and I were obsessed with fire so we became fire bugs. We loved to start garbage cans on fire. Some of the fires were so big that the fire department was called numerous times. We thought watching the firemen were so cool, we just had to start more! I loved the attention we were receiving. We were even starting fires in our own houses! Marcel started a small portion of his own basement on fire. I almost burnt down my grandmother's garage as well as my father's house! So here we were, grade school boys who started fires and stole things. Our parents at the time, had no idea what kind of mischief we were up to. We had no parental guidance at all. They were oblivious to what was really going on. Our destructive and dangerous behaviours were not normal. We just ran wild throughout the Minneapolis/St.Paul area.

Looking back at all of my shenanigans, I was a lost boy. Having poor parental guidance in addition to being teased and bullied at school, I literally was a boy of the streets. I had fun, but I didn't go to school very much, which has haunted me to this day. Education is the key for everyone, but unfortunately, it wasn't instilled in me growing up. It's amazing I am still alive with all of the craziness I endured from my childhood up until the start of my sobriety at the age of 27 years old.
I don't want to live in the past. I must move forward.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Star Wallowing Bull: Born with a Gift


When one artist writes about another artist, they often look for the common ground between them. This gives a place to begin. No one can fathom the depths of the artist's soul, nor cover the whole of their intent; nor would we want to, especially given that these post-modern times frown on that.

But there is a place that resides in the air between artists, from one artist to another, in that intellectual private space that bonds one artist to another, in which we artists want to know more. We want to know the whys and wherefores. We want to know what took that artist on their private journey.
Maybe this is part of the fourth dimension. For, surely, the artist enters another space or world in the act of creating. S/he draws on all past experience from birth to the present, all memory, sights, sounds, and smells become part of the creation process. Any artist, worth their salt, must concentrate with the outer limits of their being and thus in this act, the infinite world succumbs to a low level fringe of the artist's realm.
In what seems a narrowing of focus, abandonment of responsibility and perhaps free fall of consciousness, becomes a space of infinite possibilities and limited construct depending on the artist's mindset.
The rigorous artist who follows this path becomes a subset of mainstream cultures, a marginalized human in today's industrialized, corporate world, but in reality a subset of culture that is as old as time.

In old times, the artists were the keepers of memory, the recorders of events, the markmakers of prayers, and the shamen who brought the unseen world into view.
The artist receives this gift through their DNA. It is there at birth. Circumstances either encourage this gift or deny it's possibilities. If unrealized, this artist can search through life for a sustainable construct elsewhere and continually be rootless, never satisfied, never fulfilled, and always off balance.
In private discussions and continuous email correspondence, Star Wallowing Bull and I have discussed this topic backwards and forwards. We both understand this is a gift, we're both deeply thankful, and we both see that this is larger then we are.

Finally, I will say there are artists and then there are artists. One follows their calling, gets the proper education, and manages a career. The other artist is not only gifted, but they are a gift to their tribe, to society. They are visionaries; they create on another plane, having nothing to do with the fundamentals of design, having nothing to do with the Canon. This comes from a space of soaring dreams, a charted DNA descended from time immemorial, an unconscious, intuitive gift of enormous proportions. This, then is Star's legacy and I pray he continues to gift us all.

-Jaune Quick-to-See Smith
Corrales, NM
August 2005

Monday, April 27, 2009

Between Two Cultures: A Muscial Interpretation of the Art of Star Wallowing Bull

Star Wallowing Bull, Once Upon a Time.... 2004


I was commissioned by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony to compose a work for the 2005/06 season-opening concert. When the Plains Art Museum and the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony decided to make a collaborative evening of the art and music, I was introduced to Star Wallowing Bull. As I have worked with him, It has been a real thrill to study his work and to get a glimpse into a variety of cultures that have shaped his life.

Initially, Star had reservations about how the orchestra and music might reconcile with his art, but as we worked together, the realm of possibilities opened up, and we both gained enthusiasm for the project.

I first met Star at his studio. He showed me several pieces that would be in the exhibition. After a few minutes of talking with Star and seeing his work, I knew what I was going to do with the Symphony's piece. I decided to name my symphonic work after Star's exhibition Between Two Cultures. I would score for full orchestra: with two flutes, both doubling on piccolo; two oboes, with the second doubling on English horn; two B flat clarinets; one bass clarinet; one alto saxophone; three bassoons, with the third doubling on contra; four French horns; two trumpets; three trombones; one tuba; timpani; and four percussionists-all playing a variety of instruments, harp, and strings.

The pieces is based on three of Star's drawings. The first movement is based on the work Unknown Territory. It begins with our principal flutist playing a traditional, wooden, Native American flute. The movement explores the dark and distant look on the man's face in the drawing, as well as his contemplation and rage. To me, the loss of his arms signifies the loss of something deeper: his culture? his land? his family?

The second movement is based on Windigo versus the Cannibal Man. This drawing depicts a fight between two evil spirits. The music is driving and dark. This movement evokes my understanding of the sounds at a pow wow, where the alto saxophone is the leader and the rest of the orchestra answers the chant. As the piece builds to climax with the fight, the Thunderboyz, the Native American drum group from the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe, enters the stage and performs a short work, ending this movement.

The last movement is based on Once Upon a Time. This drawing seems very significant to Star, as it represents a new beginning in his life. From out of a very troubled past he's reaching for a star-success, a new life (thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian). The Movement begins with the full string section playing rather a somber, intense music. The pensive mood turns heroic with the brass section entering and the piece's end is uplifting and positive.

I'm thankful to the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony and the Plains Art Museum for making this collaboration possible. I'm also grateful to Star for sharing his culture and his personal stories.

-Russell Peterson
Fargo, ND
August 2005

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Plains Art Museum


Between Two Cultures: The Art of Star Wallowing Bull. The Plains Art Museum, Fargo, North Dakota 2005


When I first heard of the Plains Art Museum, I just started living at a treatment facility back in 2001. I was browsing through the newspaper and I came upon a classified ad which read,"The Plains Art Museum looking for local artists to show their artwork on the second floor hallway". I wasn't too sure of myself and my self-esteem was quite low at that time. I was still in my early recovery process of sobriety. None the less, a week later I responded with an application along with some slides of my work. I soon secured a small exhibition in the hallway. Two years later,I participated in The Art on the Plains (AOP)where my prisma color pencil drawing, "Black Elks Little Sandman" won the People's Choice Award. Where the museum soon purchased that piece for their permanent collection and is also one of the learning posters for their education department. I soon became good friends with Rusty Freeman, Sandy Ben-Haim,Pam Jacobson,Sue Petry,Joni Janz,Mark Ryan and Frank McDaniels. The entire Plains Art Museum Staff has been a great support for my work and have always been there for me.

Later in 2005, I was honored with having the "Between Two Cultures" exhibition which was in collaboration with the Fargo/Moorhead Symphony. Close to five hundred people attended my exhibition! It was very overwhelming and exciting. I just couldn't believe this was really happening to me. Months before this event, I worked with Russell Peterson who composed the music for the "Between Two Cultures" portion of the symphony's performance. Russell really captured the essence and reality of my artwork. There were three prisma color pencil drawings of mine that were projected on the wall behind the symphony. The last work shown was entitled "Once Upon a Time". It was about the re-birth of my recovery process. The drawing was a self-portrait of me as a baby reaching for a "Star". The music captivated me and brought tears of happiness to my eyes. I will forever remember this event and I'm very grateful for all the hard work that the Plains Art Museum staff, Russell Peterson and the entire Fargo/ Moorhead Symphony and the Thunderboyz had done during this collaboration.