Kevin Red Star: Crow Indian Artist

Nov 8th, 2015 | By | Category: 27-2: American Indian Law, Media Reviews

kevin-red-starr-crowBy Daniel Gibson and Kitty Leaken
Gibbs Smith (2014)
192 pages

Review by Margaret A. MacKichan

The work of Kevin Red Star is well known to people who appreciate contemporary Native American art. Whether one is new to the artist, or deems him an old friend, Kevin Red Star: Crow Artist is an engaging and desirable work for one’s library.

The author (Gibson) and photographer (Leaken) follow the chronology of the artist and liberally illustrate the stages of Red Star’s life with his work and philosophy. Born into a large, traditional, and artistic family, Red Star grew up with freedom to roam, surrounded by creativity and steeped in culture. His formal art education began in 1962, at the fledgling Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) when it was still a high school. This experience set him on the path of melding his inherent and deeply ingrained Crow culture with contemporary art expression and technique, a path he was to follow his entire life. Equally important were the lifelong friendships he formed with artists of other tribes while attending IAIA. His time at the San Francisco Art Institute led him further into the contemporary art scene, and ultimately into the milieu of the art world at large. There he has gained much recognition both nationally and internationally. These and other important milestones are skillfully interwoven throughout the book with Red Star’s words and images, creating a revealing and readable book that will bear returning to time and again.

While Red Star’s maturation and evolution are clearly evident, and new developments are noted—such as his change to acrylics from oils in the late 1990s—his work maintains a strong common thread. Exaggeration and distortion utilized in Red Star’s early work never exceeded the art viewer’s ability to recognize and interpret it, a point of importance to him and his interaction with his tribe. This early work slowly gave way to greater realism. He began to use Edward Curtis photographs as a jumping-off point for his increasingly iconic Crow figures. Seamlessly, he has moved into his latest direction—a distillation of the figure to the essential, and a return to the strong, lyrical design of his early work. Constant throughout are the use of saturated reds, rich blacks, and deep yellow ochre. Mythic Crow figures dominate, often against large fields of pulsating color or simple suggestions of place.

The importance of Red Star’s upbringing is evident in his life, and it is underscored throughout the book. He says, “I always pray before I paint. When you purify yourself, the flow of energy is tremendous and unexpected things happen.” Red Star’s goal has been to be the scout, forging a path for his people into the realm of global fine art. In this he has succeeded.

Margaret A. MacKichan, M.F.A., is director of the Great Plains Art Institute at Sinte Gleska University.

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