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Money and Maps: Canvas for Expression

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PHOENIX - The sheet of paper currency appears so lifelike its authenticity
invites onlookers to take a second look. But if the George Washingtons
don't capture the eye, the royal blue horse ridden by a Native figure
surely does.

Such acknowledgement of contemporary society coupled with the traditional
portrayal of Indian heritage would summarize the neo-pop style of Stan
Natchez.

Not looking to stir up controversy, his pieces at the least stimulate
conversation but more to the point, provoke deep thought. If art is to
touch the soul, Natchez easily draws from within his by basing his work
upon experience.

"This is the life I live and so in a sense, my art is a self-portrait,"
said Natchez who is a member of both the Shoshone and Paiute tribes. "My
art is also about you and the way I respond."

Using this philosophical approach, Natchez wants to challenge his audience
and get them to think, to react. That's why his piece "Blue Horse goes to
Washington" was front and center at his booth during the 46th Annual Heard
Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix. A late morning sun
accentuated the richness of his colored steed while sparkles of light
bounced off the added beadwork; an American flag and headband wrapped
around an Indian rider.

Even with a passing glance, it's obvious his work is filled with
storytelling and there is a statement just waiting to emerge. Though
Natchez prefers to let other people generate their own opinion, the
contrast between the detail of the dollar and the simplicity of the Native
American character begged for the artist's interpretation.

"The dollar bill is a symbol of the material world and the (Indian) image
is a symbol of the spiritual world and it's the balance between the two
that's important," said Natchez.

Of the 32 paper notes coming straight from the Department of Treasury, the
entire sheet was applied to canvas. The vibrantly-painted horse gives
immediate depth to the work while beads in red, white and blue have been
applied in three small areas which create a literal third dimension to the
piece.

Besides artistic creativity, there is cultural purpose to adding the beads.
They were the form of currency generations ago.

"Anytime you can take the Old World and New World, it's rare and powerful
to possess. But that comes with responsibility," warned Natchez.

He's critical of Natives who prepare art just to sell and who otherwise
haven't respected the culture and the history of their craft. Natchez
speaks from authority as he was the humanities department chairman at The
Orme School, a college preparatory in Mayer, Ariz.

"When you teach art history you're traveling through time. What I have is
Neolithic looking (from ancient civilizations) all the way to modern
realism," he said.

However, it's Natchez's flair in representing Indians that preserves both
the portrayal of historical figures while capturing artistic accuracy. His
style mimics what is called ledger art which was those etchings in books
starting in the 19th century.

With smooth and simple lines, these drawings were originally depicted on
animal hides, often buffalo. But as part of the cultural genocide during
the late 1800s, when the bison were destroyed en masse, also taken away was
this natural canvas.

Instead, Native Americans obtained ledger books, the blank accounting
papers which, legend has it, were used to record the profits of the white
man at the expense of Natives. So artists proficiently sketched from memory
their stories of families, ceremonies and other traditional activities. Now
Natchez finds himself duplicating their style on top of old stock
certificates and maps or present-day newspapers and currencies.

"They were a documentation of history of a broken people and the last real
true renderings that were not damaged by a stereotypical idealism like
education [of how to draw], poverty and despair," noted Natchez.

With his work exposed to a cross-section of both Native and non-Native
audiences, such as the March show in Phoenix attended by thousands over two
days, the opportunity to anticipate how his pieces are interpreted exist.
Natchez generalized how white onlookers of his art feel pangs of guilt and
remorse over the history of broken treaties and lies by numerous
governments. Among Native Americans, Natchez said they simply think his
pieces are amusing.

For more information, contact Natchez at ntchznatchez@aol.com.