“Dog’s Journey: A 20 Year Survey” – Rick Bartow at the Missoula Art Museum

This article was printed Wednesday, February 15, 2012 in REZNET NEWS: Reporting from Native America.

Artist, Rick Bartow, poses by one of his art pieces entitled "From Nothing Coyote Creates Himself," during his exhibit opening at the Missoula Art Museum in November.

MISSOULA — Wiyot and Yurok artist Rick Bartow believes everyone is given a gift and his is making marks on paper.

“That’s what the creator gave me to do,” Bartow said during a lecture at the Missoula Art Museum. “And I don’t pretend to understand it.”

Yet the artist’s work and latest exhibition displays a celebrated career and work that spans 20 years. Bartow’s nationally traveling survey exhibition “Dog’s Journey: A 20 Year Survey” includes work executed from 1991 to 2011. Most of the work features his relationship with 2-D work but Bartow is also versed in crafts sculpture, drawings, prints, ceramics, mixed media and paintings.

“The dog’s journey…reminds me of Coyote. He’s always going. They needed a title and I thought it sounded good,” Bartow said of the exhibit’s name. “In a couple of weeks I’m going to be 65 and I’m still going.”

Bartow’s was born in Newport, Ore., in 1946 and is of Wiyot and Yurok heritage. He graduated from Western Oregon University with a degree in secondary art education in 1969. His artwork is part of permanent collections at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Ind.; the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem, Ore.; the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Ariz.; and the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Ore.

The exhibit “Dog’s Journey: A 20 Year Survey” is being hosted by the Lynda M. Frost Contemporary American Art Museum. Native American artists such as Fritz Scholder, Joe Feddersen and Lillian Pitt inspire him in addition to Marc Chagall, Francis Bacon, Odilon Redon and Horst Janssen in his artwork.

“This exhibition demonstrates that Bartow is at full stride and at the top of his game,” read a panel at the exhibit at MAM. “Sharing a unique body of work rooted in his own identity, and openly and generously citing his influences while remaining true to his own expression.”

Bartow’s work has been described as “dream-like” as he often draws from myth, creation stories and animal spirits such as Coyote, Crow, Hawk, and Dog.

Bartow’s style often allows viewers to develop their own interpretations of his pieces.

“If I am lucky people will buy (my work) and get it,” Bartow said. “And I don’t have to go into it.”

Bartow shared with the crowd of about 40 people that a journalist asked him which piece was his favorite piece.

“Tonight it’s this one,” he confessed as he stepped in front of the painting called “Bear’s Journey” made in 2010 with pastel, charcoal and granite on paper.

“I think it’s the blue boat and the bears laughing,” he added.

Bartow noted his love of pastels and referred to it as “beautiful dirt.”

This art medium was heavily utilized during a master class taught by Bartow the next day at the MAM.

The palm of Bartow’s right hand was caked black with pastels as he talked to the class of 19 consisting of art students and artists. Bartow encouraged those in attendance to let their drawings evolve through erasing and layering. The class was not centered on technique and skill but on the investment in the art making process.

“Little marks, big marks, very satisfying,” Bartow said as he made a long, quick swipe with a bright red pastel. He shared that he liked the vibrant. “It’s a little charge of something here,” he said of the red line.

“I saw a video of Bartow working on YouTube and I was blown away,” said Pat Hurley of Ravalli, Mont. Hurley is enrolled in an art class at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont. and signed up for the class to learn more about Bartow’s techniques.

“I love the combined realism and abstract,” Hurley said. “Just putting marks and having emotion (dictate) what they do. I’ve never done that before. It’s a real experience for me.”

“It’s free-flowing and that’s what I like,” said Jay Laber of St. Ignatius, Mont. as he worked on his second piece during class. “It’s more of a feeling than art. I’m having a lot of fun with it.”

That emotional openness and freedom was a technique Bartow stressed as he worked on two pieces in front of the room.

“The main thing about drawing is being in attendance. It’s like a ceremony, sometimes you don’t know the words but you sing along anyways,” he said as he smudged orange in the corner of the hanging paper. “You start feeling it here in your chest and it’s innately yours.”

– Tetona Dunlap, Reznet News