Harry Fonseca: In the Silence of Dusk


FEBRUARY 14, 2010


Santa Fe, NM (January 25, 2009)—The exhibition Harry Fonseca: In the Silence of Dusk  focuses on four series of paintings that explore the transformative and mythic forces that Fonseca perceived in himself and the world around him. The painting series include In the Silence of Dusk, Stone PoemsSt. Francis of Assisi; and Seasons. While not a retrospective, the exhibition explores Fonseca’s body of work as it changes focus from stylized but representational studies based on his Native American heritage to more abstract explorations of his world to non-objective compositions celebrating color. All of the works in the exhibition are courtesy of the Harry Fonseca Trust. The exhibition opens at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Sunday, February 14, 2010, 1:00-4:00 p.m and runs through January 2, 2011.

Harry Fonseca was raised in California but moved to in Santa Fe in 1990 and lived here until his death in 2006.  His father of Portuguese descent was a janitor, and his mother, of Hawaiian and Maidu Indian descent, was a traditional housewife and mother. Fonseca learned little of his cultural legacy growing up. Essential to his understanding of being Maidu (a central California Indian tribe) were three men he met as an adult: Frank LaPena, a Wintu artist teaching at California State University Sacramento; his uncle, Henry Azbill, a Concow Maidu, who was a significant figure in efforts to reestablish and preserve Maidu traditions in California and with whom Fonseca recorded the Maidu creation stories; and Concow Maidu painter Frank Day who was central to creating the Maidu Dancers and Traditionalists, of which Fonseca was a member.

As Fonseca told Larry Abbott in 1991–92,

“I found out more about my Native American background, and became involved with the dances and the whole traditional base. That really gave me a foundation, not only for me but for my art work as well. It’s still here. It’s still very, very strong. It has a great deal of meaning to me, even when I am not doing a petroglyph, or a coyote or something, there’s still something there.”

Fonseca’s introduction to Coyote—the trickster and mythical figure who would become the subject of his most renowned work—occurred during his participation in a traditional dance. One of the figures was dressed as a Coyote and his part in the ceremony was both as jester and guide. Coyote was Fonseca’s alter-ego and throughout his career he painted the trials and tribulations of Coyote as he comes up against an Anglo/Euro-American world.

In this exhibition, we put Coyote aside to explore Fonseca’s other artistic inspirations. Both the In the Silence of Dusk and Stone Poems series were inspired by Native American rock art most notably that of the Coso Range in California and rock panels throughout the American Southwest. Fonseca greatly admired the passion and determination of rock artists for the time and effort they took to carve images out of solid rock.  While they are anchored in rock art, the In the Silence of Dusk series’ central figures allude to transformation and existence in a surreal space, and Fonseca instills them with a sense of the mystery and the intuitive.

Harry Fonseca also created a series of works based on the person St. Francis of Assisi and the figure of Icarus that explored spirituality and mythology outside of his Native culture.  In the St. Francis of Assisiseries Fonseca steps outside his Native American heritage to create works that are meditations on the life of a man he greatly admired for his trueness to self through his rejection of wealth and privilege, his strong commitment to the poor, and his celebration of all forms of life.

At the end of his career Fonseca began working on abstract works, including the spontaneous drip paintings he titled “Seasons.” These paintings which mark another stylistic shift reflect the artist’s love of the outdoors, a physical and mental release, a sense of freedom, and a future ripe with new possibilities. He completed his last Seasons painting in 2006.

Fonseca was recognized in 2004 with the Alan Houser Memorial Award by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. In 2005 the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana, awarded Fonseca the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.

Harry Fonseca: In the Silence of Dusk opens Sunday, February 14, 2010, 1:00-4:00 p.m., in the Lloyd Kiva New Gallery at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture with a reception in celebration of Lloyd Kiva New’s birthday. Refreshments will be provided from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. by Aysen New.

Margaret Archuleta (Tewa/Nuevo Mexicana) will speak on Fonseca’s career in the O’Keefe Theater, 2 – 3 p.m. Seating is limited. Archuleta is a Ph.D. student in Art History at the University of New Mexico and a former director of the Institute of American Indian Art Museum, Santa Fe.