Sunday, April 10, 2016

Local Art Seen: Gordon Coons, Ojibwa/Ottawa Artist

Friday evening I had the privilege of attending the opening reception at the AICHO for artist Gordon Coons of the Ojibwa heritage from the Lake Superior Chippewa Band of Wisconsin and Ottawa of Michigan. Now living in Minneapolis, Coons is a self-taught artist who works in a variety of mediums including painting, printing and mixed media. The work was an interesting blend of traditional native storytelling and various forms of contemporary expression.

There were numerous familiar faces present, including painter Jonathan Thunder who confided that Coons had been a mentor when Thunder first began to taking his art seriously, and Ivy Vainio whose photography proved to be an emotive addition to last Monday's One River, Many Stories exhibition at the Depot.

"Muskrat returning the Earth"
The exhibit itself seemed to be something of a retrospective from various stages of Coons' career. There were also a range of creative explorations that involved various types of printing, embossing and even works in duct tape.

In the hallway outside the gallery there were a series of paintings using the American flag, in a manner not unlike Jasper Johns, yet altogether different. Here we find Coons incorporating statements from Ojibwa history into the flag, most vividly the grievous Mankato hangings of 1862 in which 38 Dakota natives were executed by hanging. One flag painting lists Native tribes and the years of their treaties. Another lists the 38 Dakota men who were hung in Mankato the day after Chritmas, 1862. Here's one account from the New York Times. And here's an alternative or supplementary account of this tragic moment in time that was overshadowed by the American Civil War. You may also read the Wikipedia record here.

Ivy Vainio, Gordon Coons, Jonathan Thunder, Francine Corcoran
Jake Vainio produced a soothing ambience with his electric guitar during the reception except for a portion in which Mr. Coons was invited to address the audience from the AICHO stage. To see more from this event, visit this page of photos by Ivy Vainio.

Gordon Coons speaking after introduction by Jonathan Thunder.
"Mooz / Moose"
"Owaazisli / Bullhead"
"Lac Courte Oreilles Elder" -- Layered duct tape cutout. 
American Flag with tribes and treaties.
Detail from above. 

Gordon Coons has won numerous awards and commissions for his graphics, prints, paintings and sculptures. His work has become part of numerous permanent collections. 

If you have never taken in an exhibit at Trepanier Hall, the former YWCA, then you really need to put American Indian Community Housing Association on your watch list for upcoming events. There is a vibrant arts community here and a lot happening.  

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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