From smudge to revelation
Tim Nevaquaya’s Strength of a Nation painting. COURTESY
Tim Nevaquaya stands next to a prize- winning painting of his and in front of several other pieces of his work. COURTESY
Native artist Tim Nevaquaya’s Buffalo Dance painting. Nevaquaya began his art career studying under his father, Doc Tate Nevaquaya. COURTESY
In the lines of his paintings, Tim Nevaquaya sees the influence of his father, the acclaimed Comanche artist Doc Tate Nevaquaya. Although the elder passed in 1996, he left behind an artistic legacy that runs like a current through his children – almost all artists. To his son, that legacy lives, breathes and still creates.
To the average viewer, Tim’s style is nothing like his father’s. But the artist sees Doc’s prints all over it. The traditional forms and the subject matter are his father’s influence, a consequence of learning from an important Native American artists of the 20th century beginning at age 3. Doc surrounded himself with artists.
“I started to observe what they were doing and realized from an early age this was what I was going to do for the rest of his life.”
As a child, he drew. As he grew older, he became his father’s apprentice. They collaborated on paintings, as the son did background work upon which Doc painted the detail for which he was noted. The elder Nevaquaya practiced a style of painting made prominent by the Kiowa Five artists – a style that depicts images in flat two-dimensional representations using neutral or pastel colors. This approach was called the traditional style, and its practitioners ushered in a new era of Native art.
In his early 20s, Tim became serious about his art and looked to his father and other traditional masters for direction. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he discovered his own.
“As time went on, I started to learn that form of art, but I realized that there was something more to what I was doing,” he says. “…I was doing realistic art, and I came to a point in my art when I was frustrated with what I was doing because there were no real breakthroughs. I was struggling at that time.”
While working, he smeared the paint. At the point of correcting himself, Tim smudged the lines on his canvas, curious to see what would happen.
“People talk about having a ‘happy accident,’ but to me this far excelled that,” he said. “The more spontaneous I got, it seemed like the painting actually started to improve. I began to realize that something was starting to evolve here. Right there was the beginning of the new revolution, new growth.”
It was more than a revolution for an artist who had struggled so long with his work and had hopes to become a full-time artist. It was a revelation. Through this technique, Tim translated the mystery and spiritual power of ceremonial dancers that had fascinated him since his youth. And like the Comanche warriors who painted symbols of the spirit world on their war shields, he was practicing a form of medicine. It’s still good for his soul, he said.
“The dance was really mysterious to me. In grade school, my teachers didn’t quite understand the images I was doing. They didn’t realize that I was starting an art career. I didn’t realize it. Today, they’re a primary focus of what I do,” he said.
He said people don’t realize the work that goes into being a full-time artist such as designing a pallette, manipulating colors and the prep work. But he said it’s worth it. “I tell a lot of up-and-coming artists that the only way this knowledge will come to you is by being consistent in the work you’re doing. You’ll never have the grand revelation until you start to indulge in what you’re doing, because all you’re doing is learning and learning and learning. I tell them to keep reading, keep searching, be passionate about what it is, and this thing will come alive on you and will help you.”
For more information, visit www.timnevaquaya.com
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