To Blake Little, Gay Rodeo is Personal

Blake Little, Chute Dogging
From the moment he attended his first gay rodeo in 1988, photographer Blake Little was hooked. “I was completely drawn to it and I had to be a part of it,” he stated. “I wanted to be a cowboy.” Pursuing the thrill of his own cowboy dreams through the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), Little became immersed in the spirited Western community. As a participant, Little found himself in a unique place where he could draw on his passion for photography and use his background and skills as a photographer to document the gay rodeo through his camera lens.

Little knew, of course, that the view through a camera lens can be unique, often capturing the world from a different angle than seen when simply passing by. Through his photographs, he invites us to view things as they are, while also challenging us to see them from a different perspective.

What resulted was a series of 41 stunning black-and-white photographs taken between 1988 and 1992. On exhibit at the HDM from December 15, 2017, through April 30, 2018, Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, presents a glimpse into a little-known world, allowing us to explore a story with the intimacy of an insider’s point of view. In addition to representing Little’s own experience on the gay rodeo circuit, the exhibition also celebrates the lives of many of its participants during those years, capturing the spirit and camaraderie of a vibrant community. The collection elegantly combines the action of roping and riding, while also presenting a portrait of the courageous cowboys and cowgirls behind the scenes.

The exhibition, Little explained, memorializes his own “unforgettable experiences in gay rodeo,” and honors “the cowboys who competed with me and left a huge mark on my life.” Competitors came from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet the relationships they formed became some of the most important in their lives. The gay rodeo community offered the LGBT cowboys and cowgirls a place where they could be themselves and embrace their true identities. Despite the competitive nature of rodeo, participants were supportive of one another. “For me that was the most memorable and rewarding thing about rodeo,” Little stated.
Some of the rodeo participants pictured in Little’s photographs still ride, but many have retired and some have passed away.
Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo is curated by Johanna Blume, assistant curator of Western art at the Eiteljorg Museum, and offered through the courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, IN.

This exhibit is a program of ExhibitsUSA and The National Endowment for the Arts. 
Made Possible by Cascade Arts & Entertainment, Oregon Cultural Trust and Zolo Media. This project has been funded in part by the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. With support from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

Blake Little, Chute Dogging, Phoenix, Arizona, 1989; archival pigment
printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 13.25 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy
of Blake Little.

Telling Native American Stories Through Art

Ben Pease has been awarded the Jury’s Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s Art in the West exhibition for his 2017 work “Honor and Respect Come to Thee”. It was among 226 pieces submitted in response to a nationwide call to artists for the Museum’s annual juried art exhibition and silent auction.

Ben is a young Native American artist whose work is deeply steeped in identity. Born on the Crow Indian Reservation in 1989, he has deep roots in both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations in southeastern Montana. While Ben has been making waves in the art world for several years now, he is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Montana State University with a major in Art and a minor in Native American Studies. Ben considers himself a storyteller by vocation, and feels strongly that he has a responsibility to tell the stories of Native people.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” is a mixed-media painting that shows a digitally manipulated historical photograph of a mounted Native American warrior superimposed on a rich and layered background composed of washes of acrylic paint, glass beads, antique ledger papers, an antique mail envelope and a US telegraph ticket. The dense but transparent surfaces of his paintings are somewhat hazy, and we get the sense that we are viewing an image from memory through the fog of time. His paintings are accumulations of meaningful materials and processes, where successive layers of later marks obscure earlier ones. The ledger pages remind us that we need to account for the past, and the acrylic paint almost becomes a kind of whitewash, which reminds us of our desire to avoid dealing with difficult and unpleasant aspects of our national history.

Composed as they are of historical images that are depicted using a combination of traditional painting techniques and modern, digital processes, Ben’s paintings elegantly express the tension between the traditional and the modern. His works are almost a tug-of-war between the past and the present, and his imagery is a rich stew of culturally-transmitted memory and history seasoned with the awareness of what it means to live in America as a Native person today.

What draws me to Ben’s work is his willingness to make art that can speak to difficult and painful aspects of the past while at the same time celebrating the positive elements of Native identity today. His work is a tribute to people who have been tested by great adversity, but have retained a strong sense of who they are and where they come from.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” and the other works in Art in the West are on view in the Brooks Gallery through August 26. The silent auction culminates at the High Desert Museum’s gala, the High Desert Rendzvous, that evening.

Photo: Honor and Respect Come to Thee by Ben Pease (Jury’s Choice Award)