By Maria Wyllie
Big Sky Weekly Editorial Assistant
Kevin Red Star is a leader in the mainstream contemporary art world and a true living legend. A Crow Indian, his courage to create original works on canvases of epic dimensions has brought Native American art into the international spotlight.
“I’m on my way to do something,” said Red Star, 70, in a soft-spoken, yet dignified voice. “I’m on a journey here.”
Red Star’s artistic journey formally began when he was invited to attend the newly established Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1962. But his love for painting began long before that.
Growing up in the small town of Lodge Grass on the expansive Crow reservation of eastern Montana, Red Star, whose Crow name is “Running Rabbit,” grew up in a culturally rich environment that nurtured his artistic inclinations. His mother’s intricate beadwork and vibrant costume designs for tribal fairs played a role in his understanding of Crow ornamentation, graphics and symbolism.
These childhood influences grew stronger as he explored his history and culture through modern art techniques at the IAIA.
“It was a love that needed to be fed,” Red Star said, referring to his decision to attend the IAIA. “I really just wanted to create.”
Despite the Crow people’s appreciation for the arts, art as a profession was unheard of at that time. Indian sketches were sold as tourist knickknacks until the inception of the IAIA, where Red Star began to visually record and preserve the history of his people.
“I’m doing an interpretation, but it’s still Crow,” he said. “There might be some exaggerated forms, but I always include some symbol of the Crow people that is recognizable in most of my subject matter.”
Red Star’s work is a synthesis of traditional and contemporary imagery, marked by bright, bold colors and brushstrokes with a mastery of light and movement. His style has evolved from abstract to impressionism to realism, but he currently feels most comfortable portraying the Crow nation in an impressionistic style.
Working from a studio in Roberts, Mont., Red Star is currently painting five to six pieces simultaneously, including a prominent Crow leader, a Crow Indian dressed in ceremonial attire, as well as a series of horses to be featured next fall in Big Sky’s Creighton Block Gallery, which already has nine originals on display.
Creighton Block owner Colin Mathews calls the artist “a vibrant force in contemporary art.”
“Kevin is a true pioneer,” Mathews said. “He has invented art that brings tribal mythology and forms and colors to life in works that are, in their line and composition, extraordinary contemporary art by any standards.”
After four decades of painting professionally, Red Star continues to refine his work and bring new life to every piece. “It’s a labor of love,” he says.
Originals of Kevin Red Star’s work may be seen in museum collections around the world, including the Pierre Cardin’s Escape Museum in Paris, France; the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz. His work can also be found at select regional museums such as the Whitney Museum of Western Art in Cody, Wyo., the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings and the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls.
To read more about the artist, visit kevinredstar.com