Mont. (AP) Works by renowned American Indian artist rife
with irony, paradox
of asphalt suspended from the frame of a teepee over a bed of aerial
of old tires, cast in rubber molds and shaped into a war shield
that's split down the middle with a white zigzagged line.
door frame wallpapered with real-estate ads and pictures of American
Indians, the word SOLD sprawled in bold letters. The title: "Welcome
to the Res."
is nothing traditional about Corwin "Corky" Clairmont's
artwork. In unconventional ways, he's spent a lifetime challenging
the viewers of his work to understand what he has to say. Every
piece of his artwork gives way to ironic twists and turns, full
of social and political commentary as it relates to his American
Artist is Immersed in the Culture
me, art is about life," Clairmont said in a reserved, soft-spoken
tone that belies the brash force of his artwork. "Anything
you're engaged in gives substance that might filter into a project.
You have to be a participant in life."
a longtime assistant vice president and art instructor at Salish
Kootenai College in Pablo, Clairmont is immersed in the culture
from which he draws inspiration for his art.
of his most recent works, "Indian Country Passage Denied,"
is a perfect example of the provocative nature of his work. The
collagraph depicts modern-day passport images of Lewis and Clark
against a colorful background meant to reflect American Indians'
rich past. In a portfolio of Clairmont's prints, "Native Perspectives
on the Trail," the commentary points out that Lewis and Clark's
historic expedition "was one of exploration but also the demonstration
of arrogant superiority and the cementing of territorial lines.
and Clark did not proceed as guests in a foreign land, but as conquerors
... Clairmont's print leads us to ask: 'What if Lewis and Clark
needed passports and what if their passage had been denied?'"
Against Indians a Favorite Theme
and time again, Clairmont brings attention to his view of corporate
and governmental injustices imposed on the Indian community and
environment, particularly as it relates to the Flathead Reservation.
There are common threads woven through his work save the
environment, save the American Indian culture.
mixed-media piece, "Asphalt Storm Cloud Over the Reservation,"
with asphalt pieces suspended from a teepee frame, was completed
in the early 1990s as the state contemplated widening U.S. 93 into
a four-lane highway.
you put a road in and take a hillside out, in essence you're taking
a page out of our book," he reflected. "The land becomes
more fragmented, and it's done many times without conscience. Sacred
sites are destroyed. We don't have a loud voice to talk about those
things. Through the arts, it gives us more of a voice.
a member of the tribe and that means a lot to me," Clairmont
said. "I'm sensitive to Indian issues. If you're a native person,
where you are contains all your stories."
Mount Rushmore Commentary Sparked Controversy
10,000-year-old history of his people, and the impact "newcomers"
have had on that culture within the past couple of hundred years
is a juxtaposition prevalent in his work.
work has sparked controversy on several occasions. Perhaps the most
vocal outcry was spurred by a piece called "Paha Sapa,"
depicting two families one white, one red viewing
Mount Rushmore. The Euro-American family has the faces of the U.S.
presidents reflected in their glasses, but the Indian family has
four skulls reflected and positioned in the same places as the presidents'
heads, implying the Lakota's disdain over what they see as a desecration
of a mountain into a tourist trap.
trips to the Paris Gibson Square Museum where the piece was on display
were canceled as the controversy raged in the mid-1990s.
well-known American Indian artist and poet Gail Tremblay explained,
"any native person with a sense of history understands the
content of this work instantly," recounting the hand America's
earliest presidents had in destroying the Indian culture.
is great truth in his works," Tremblay said in an Missoula
Art Museum catalog about Clairmont's artwork. "And like the
elements he uses such as rocks and earth, they are timeless. Corwin
Clairmont makes art that speaks with a clear voice, and this large
world needs to hear it."
by His Parents
came to art early in life.
I liked doing it," he recalled about his formative years. "My
parents encouraged me to a degree because of my ability to render
things fairly well at an early age. I knew pretty early on that
I wanted to do something with the arts."
a boy, paint-by-number kits that routinely turned up as Christmas
gifts didn't make any sense to him.
bored me to tears," he said. "I don't know if I ever finished
high school in Polson, an art instructor began to introduce Clairmont
to different elements of art. A traveling artist came through during
his sophomore year, demonstrating how to paint acrylic landscapes
with a pallet knife.
was the first time I really tried painting," he said.
Seal he Designed at 15 is Still Used
15 he designed a tribal seal as part of a contest on the reservation.
He won, and still today his rendering is the official seal of the
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation.
studying art at the University of Montana and Montana State University
and earning an art degree, he was off to California to complete
his master's degree in art from California State University.
made his mark in the avant-garde atmosphere of Los Angeles in the
1970s, teaching at the world-renowned Otis Art Institute, one of
the best schools at that time for contemporary art.
felt very lucky to be able to teach there," he said.
Up on the Flathead Indian Reservation
in 1984 it was time to come home to the Flathead Indian Reservation
where he'd grown up. He wanted to spend time with his father, and
got the opportunity to do that before his father passed away that
Kootenai College was just getting its accreditation when Clairmont
came home to the reservation. The college didn't have an opening
for an art teacher, so he took an administrative position. He took
a leadership role in creating an art department at the college,
and in 1989 was named director of the college's art programs and
assistant vice president, positions he still holds.
had free rein in designing the college's Three Woodcocks art building,
and took special care to make sure the facility has "a real
presence of our being." It's shaped like a traditional Salish
long house, but has abstract teepee-like elements and natural lighting
that makes it feel as if one is outdoors even within the building's
ability to share his love of art is evident among his students,
who on this day were pounding and chiseling feverishly to shape
Indian flutes. He doesn't stand on a soapbox, though, to instill
his beliefs in his young charges.
bring it up when it's appropriate to do so. There are times and
places for it," he said.
Out Copies of Treaty that Established Reservation
has a sizable list of accomplishments. Last year he received the
Governor's Arts Award and a hometown celebration was held in Pablo
in his honor.
served as artist-in-residence at several universities, including
Rutgers, where he was a print fellow at the Rutgers Center for Innovative
Print and Paper.
quest in preserving his native heritage is evident in the cards
he routinely passes out to those he meets. The compact "gold
cards" contain word for word the entire 1855 Treaty of Hell
Gate that established the Flathead Indian Reservation.
it," he encourages, then with a slight smile adds, "don't
leave home without it."