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