Frank Big Bear sings homages with his art

Frank Big Bear brings a joyful energy to his current exhibition, now on view at the Bockley Gallery, as he pays homage to his past teachers and mentors, as well as the personal and historic heroes of the American Indian Movement. "Frank Big Bear: Homage" also features several self-portraits, and uses vibrant colors to sing an ode to those who have brought meaning and direction to his life. 

Among the most stunning works in this show is a large-scale collage, titled AIM and Art, which assembles photographs taken of the American Indian Movement -- including activist Winona LaDuke and other historic figures -- mixed in with artwork from George Morrison, Fritz Shoulder, Edgar Heap of Birds, and more. The collage is made up of a collection of individual cards that were created for a recent show of pieces by Star Wallowing Bull, Big Bear's son. The cards bleed into each other thematically and through Big Bear's use of color and shape. Though the work includes many different sections, they read as a whole piece, and the result is awe-inspiring. 

The collage also includes images of nature and animals, with some consumer culture thrown in the mix (there's an ironic inclusion of Aim toothpaste, for example, and a cut-out of the lady in the Progressive commercials). In all, it's an emotional ride. 

Also strong are Big Bear's homages to his friends and mentors, including revered Native artist George Morrison, Big Bear's high school art teacher Katherine Mattson, and his friend Wallace Kennedy, a respected arts educator who passed away earlier this year. Each of these portraits include Big Bear's way of showing his subjects' personalities. In his portrait of Morrison, Big Bear re-creates the patterns the artist often made using different colored wood. Big Bear's portrait of Mattson includes musical notes and was influenced, according to gallery owner Todd Bockley, by both Beethoven's Symphony No. Five and Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," while his portrait of Kennedy utilizes colors he associates with the innovative arts educator. 

All of these homages -- the collage and the three paintings -- seem to jump off the walls in celebration of life, of music, and dancing. They are remembrances of the past, but rather than being seeped in sorrow, they call out in joyful movement. 

His self-portraits, meanwhile, are also colorful, but have perhaps more of an introspective meditation to them. Painting himself in his studio or surrounded by the things that he cares about, the artist has created works that offer a glimpse of his vulnerability and self-reflection. 

In all, this is an exhibition that runs the gambit of emotions, containing multiple layers of history, storytelling, and personal connection in a spirited dance. You don't want to miss it. 


"Frank Big Bear: Homages"

Through June 14

Bockley Gallery

2123 W. 21st St., Minneapolis

Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.