By Abbie Digel, Explorebigsky.com Editor
This gallery is part one in a three-part series featuring artists that will be showcasing their work at the fourth Big Sky Meadow Village Artwalk, July 7-8. Stroll the Artwalk on a self-guided tour while meeting artists, enjoying refreshments and the beautiful summer weather. Make sure to stop by and meet the artists this July. These short interviews are only snapshots of their styles and personalities.
Rabbit Knows Gun is a long time Montana artist and a member of the Crow Tribe. He was born in 1948 in Montana and has lived many different lives in the military, in the Crow Tribe, and as an inspirational and spiritual artist. His gallery, the Knows Gun Gallery in Billings, features Rabbit’s work, as well as that of his sons, Joe and Allen Knows Gun.
Rabbit is known in the art community as the “visionary artist of the poor.” His colorful paintings capture themes of traditional Crow culture, American patriotism, his Catholic spirituality and the sprit of Montana’s natural landscape.
We spoke over the phone in late May shortly before this paper was published. He called our office from a Billings IGA while purchasing food for a dinner he would have with a friend.
I love Montana because it is the most beautiful place in the world. Some people say it’s the last frontier. I see it as more of a pristine environment that’s conducive to art. A lot of Montana artists are great artists; I see it everywhere I go.
All historians, artists, love Montana. Montana means ‘land of many mountains’. Some of my favorite inspiration comes from driving from Billings to Yellowstone National Park. I’ve painted the Crazies, Beartooths… all the mountain ranges here. My art comes from a beautiful place that God created.
In 1990, I had this vision [that] lasted an hour or so. A figure was coming at me from a long distance away, and as it got closer it was loud, like a train, or thunder or a tornado; the sounds came together to make this large noise. The people that were there were ready and calm, but I was fearful. I saw that it was a cross with a man on it; he was coming down on top of a lot of people, and light was coming from the sky.
As the figure started getting closer I could see it was Jesus. I was trying to cry out to him, asking him to forgive me. I woke up in a cold sweat. I couldn’t talk to anybody, so I made some tea. I was inspired to paint that vision.
[That painting] took place first at an art fair in Billings. The lady called me, said my painting had won $200, among all the other well-known artists there.
Afterward, I turned it over to the Lord, building up my inner person, working on new work. I had been in bad shape, asked God for help and fasted for three days and two nights, and by that time I didn’t want to use alcohol anymore in my life. I asked God to take it away from me, he restored me, gave me back my life.
The part about being the “visionary artist of the poor” has helped me stay humble. I am supposed to share my understanding of God’s help.
I have recently begun to appreciate the greatest artist of all…God (Akbatta-diah), in Crow, the one who created everything. The rest of us can only try to emulate his great work, using the talents and skills He gives us.
I’ve practiced a lot of different mediums like drawing, pencils and pens. I participated in a quick draw in Miles City recently, where I was one of 26 artists. In the past I’ve painted on buckskin hide. “Prayer lodges on the bank of the Big Horn River” is being shown in Billings right now.
My style is reflective of patriotism, and is family oriented and inspirational. A strong theme in my life is the ‘kinship of creation’ concept—it talks to me and continues to be a driving force for my work, giving it an inspirational quality which portrays the joy, humility and awe which I believe is important to the reason I am an artist. This concept also shows that all of life is dependent on each other and all life forms are sacred. A lot of people don’t understand that.