Life on display in Frank Salcido's paintings

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Navajo Frank Salcido not only knows how to step out in an
inter-tribal dance, his paintings are inter-tribal - and even
multicultural. Full of brilliant primary colors and sooty blacks and sky
blue turquoises, Salcido's content marches all over Indian country and
celebrates life in whimsical ways so full of fancy it almost seems
psychedelic. He even gets around in the Anglo realm and down to Central
America and over to Egypt, all the while grounding his content in a sense
of history.

Salcido stands by one of his paintings hanging at Bonnie Kahn's Wild West
Gallery in Portland. His dark brown hair is pulled back into a chonga knot,
a Navajo-style bun men wear at the nape of the neck, a vertical bow of hair
bound in the middle with a thick bundle of strings. His belt buckle is a
silver concho, tooled into a scalloped edge with a piece of oval turquoise
set in the center. Even though Salcido's a married man and has two
teenagers at home, he wears no rings on his brown artist's hands, hands
that look strong and mature now that he's turned 50.

"I'm not really into politics with my art. We had our share of sad times in
the Southwest, but I don't get into all that. Things happened for reasons.
But that was then and now we're here ...," he said. "Whatever happened back
then, I don't really blame anybody living now, and I want my paintings to
be bright and something that are cool to look at."

Salcido, Dine, was raised by bilingual parents in Thoreau, N.M. near the
Eastern Agency in the checkerboard part of the Navajo Reservation. There he
attended public school where he spoke as much English as he did Navajo.
"Sometimes other Navajos look down on us in our area of the reservation,"
he said, "because we lived over there by the railroad."

But Salcido didn't spend any energy worrying about stigma. Instead he let
the experiences of his childhood propel him into a distinctive style of
painting that sets him clearly apart from the R.C. Gormans of the world.
While Salcido likes to paint Navajo women in their velveteen blouses and
sateen skirts and squash blossom necklaces, he does so in swaths of bold
color that resonate more with a fantasy world than with the muted palette
of the Southwest.

And that's just the tip of Salcido's repertoire. After he worked on the
railroads for a number of years, he went to school in Santa Fe. From 1973
to 1978 he earned two degrees, a B.A. in art from the College of Santa Fe,
and from the Institute of American Indian Arts, an AFA or Affirmative Fine
Arts.

Now Salcido regularly does historical research before he begins a piece and
is particularly interested in the pre-war period of the 1930s and 1940s, as
well as the decade after World War II ended and America came of age.

"What I really like to see is when people stand there and take the time to
get into one of my paintings. Like this one I did using an old ad of white
people in the 1950s watching Indians on TV. I changed it around and had
Indians sitting there instead.

"I just like to have fun," he said. "I also did a painting of a white
cowboy serenading a Navajo woman, both of them on horseback."

It was after art school, though, when Salcido worked in Wyoming as a park
ranger at Grand Teton that he took an interest in the pan-Indian scene. "At
the museum there, they had old pieces from all around the area in their
collections, so I was looking at bead-work and paintings done on hide and
ledger art from when they worked on lined pads of paper. I just got turned
on over the idea of looking at something that's real."

Others are starting to get turned on to Salcido's art as well, not to say
that he hasn't has some exposure over the past 20 years, from New York City
in Soho at the First People's Gallery to Colorado and San Diego. But in
August 2005 Salcido will have a booth on the plaza at the Santa Fe Indian
Market for the first time after applying for the privilege for more than 10
years. "It's one of the oldest Indian markets in America and a big
tradition. A lot of collectors come, and it attracts Indians from all over
- Alaska to back East and everywhere." After he's done with his Southwest
tour, Salcido will be back in Portland, where his family resides, and
getting ready for a show devoted to his work at Bonnie Kahn's gallery.

It will take a year to prepare for the events, but Salcido is ready. He has
the maturity to pace himself and to let his curiosity and creativity have
enough reign to run. As he puts it "I'm a happy guy and have a lot of fun
with my art." That people are looking forward to what he comes up with is
apparent. But then that's not surprising. A little joy now and then goes a
long way.