Jeffrey Gibson (b. 1972), who is half Choctaw and half Cherokee, creates sculptures and paintings that intermingle more traditional Native American art with contemporary art and culture. His works are irrefutable evidence that such taxonomies can sit comfortably together, resulting in amalgams of his vast personal interests and unique biography that demonstrate the ease of inclusion.
Assimilating influences such as indigenous art and craft, politics, music, fashion, urban subculture and art history, Gibson coalesces elements from each then re-contextualizes and levels them. Popular music lyrics are suddenly imbued with the gravitas of political statements. His visual language is bold, colorful and vibrant often with geometric arrangements that convey tempo, rhythm, interwoven colors, repetition, variation and silence. The communal spirit is an important aspect here – the works require laborious craft contributed by his studio assistants whom he regards as family.
Almost all the works in the show contain text that are charged with personal meaning, elaborately embroidered in beadwork and testament that design can have content. Gibson appropriates phrases from popular song lyrics, social movements and has recently incorporated his own writings. His use of language thus parallels that of Sister Corita Kent, and like her Gibson has begun to arrange words in scattered and atypical formatting. Sentences are no longer a simple left to right read; they become fragments of a thought floating in one’s mind.
Two new life-sized figures, made with heavily adorned cloaks draped over wooden armatures, are exalted to the role of mythical creatures. Affixed with ceramic heads, the anachronistic beings offer advice to those who are willing to ask the right questions. Are they benevolent, malevolent or just taciturn sentinels?
Embodying the vitality of Native American powwow dancers, the highly adorned punching bags are fully remade but maintain the pugilistic power of its former identity. For Gibson these “bags” personify motley characters: punks, goths, rockers, queers, dancers, fighters. They bear fealty to his heritage, but at the same time obdurately reject associations with any specific culture. They are beautiful, expressive outsiders.
In his new series of beaded wall hangings, Gibson references textiles and blankets traditionally worn as robes, now placards for abstracted graphical aphorisms that connect to immediate social issues. The thoughts behind activist political statements, often obscured by conflicting viewpoints, are revealed and become more personal reveries. In “American History”, Gibson remembers James Baldwin’s famous words through a beaded quilt composition.
His new monochromatic paintings explore a greatly reduced palette. Painted on rawhide, the hard-edge geometric shapes accentuate its materiality; reminding one that it once was a living sentient being. In Document 2015, gray painted monochrome on a full-size deer hide beautifully conflates issues of abstraction with the transience and fragility of life. These sublime works hold reverence for all creatures.