Rick Bartow (1946-2016) is one of Oregon’s most celebrated Indigenous artists. His work gained national recognition during his lifetime. For instance, his monumental cedar carvings We Were Always Here went on permanent display in 2012 outside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian overlooking the National Mall. The Museum exhibition opening January 26, Rick Bartow: Things You Know But Cannot Explain, celebrates and memorializes Rick’s extraordinary life. The exhibit’s time at the High Desert Museum marks its last Oregon appearance. It will include a rarely seen painting by Rick from the Museum’s permanent collection.
Rick’s sculptures, paintings, drawings and prints are an eloquent exploration of his identity. They remind us that identity is layered and complex. The art is an insightful expression of life as a struggle. Paint drips and gestural marks coexist with carefully rendered forms to create compositions that are as dynamic and beautiful as they are meaningful. Rick made art that is vibrant, physical and engaging. He effortlessly combined images of shamans, totems, talismans, masks and creation stories with ideas from Western philosophy. This diversity of subjects reveals Rick to be a person who deeply valued tradition but was also a voracious reader, a deep thinker and an amateur naturalist. He had an all-consuming passion for the physical world in all its messy and contradictory glory. Rick’s work reminds us that art is a powerful form of expression that transcends words and defies stereotypes.
John Simpkins personifies the tradition of the artist as a mystic and hermit. For the past seven years, he’s lived and painted in the schoolhouse in Andrews, a ghost town nestled between Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert in Oregon’s Harney County. His days are filled with the quiet contemplation and solitary discipline of his studio practice.
In Desert Mystic, he’s created paintings inspired by the surrounding arid landscape and its wildlife. Simpkins weaves them into dense, layered allegories. His detailed and colorful paintings are shaped by influences as diverse as American Primitivism, Byzantine icon painting and Buddhist art.
He describes the animals of the region as being constant companions and transforms his frequent chance encounters with coyotes, badgers, owls and other creatures into paintings that depict them as guides and teachers. It is a concept he borrows from the Buddhist tradition. Consequently, the mule deer buck that startles John by peering through his studio window one morning is immortalized as a messenger wrapped in saffron robes.
Simpkins displays a tenacious dedication to his unique vision and perspective. The impressive trove of accumulated paintings from the last seven years that fill his studio are a testament to his robust work ethic. His vibrant vision has found fertile soil and flourished in its austere environment. John Simpkins has transformed the arid desolation of the Oregon desert into a creative oasis.
By Curator of Arts and Community Engagement Andries Fourie
The navigational feats performed by wildlife—whether as part of their daily, local activities or long-distance migrations—are arguably some of the natural world’s most awe-inspiring phenomena. The tiny rufous hummingbird, for example, deftly finds its way from wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
This new, interactive exhibition explores how such remarkable journeys are possible. Unlike us, other animals don’t have the benefit of maps and compasses, or do they? While many mysteries remain, scientists are steadily uncovering the secrets of navigation. Their findings suggest that different species are equipped with internal compass senses, intricate mental maps and other adaptations that enable them to stay on track. These mechanisms tell birds, mammals, fish and insects where they are and in which direction they are heading, even as they navigate the most testing terrains or places they have never seen before.
Human actions create some further challenges for animal navigators. For example, lights can obscure the night sky and completely disorient birds and other species. Thankfully, as we learn more about how animals navigate and how we are impacting their behavior, we also become better equipped to take effective conservation actions. This knowledge helps us to understand our own species, too, and how we might navigate using nature’s clues. Come and find out how in “Animal Journeys: Navigating in Nature.”
By Donald M. Kerr Curator of Natural History Louise Shirley