Critics’ Picks

Rick Bartow, Man Acting Like Dog, 2009, wood, metal, graphite, joint compound, 24 x 12 x 24".

Rick Bartow, Man Acting Like Dog, 2009, wood, metal, graphite, joint compound, 24 x 12 x 24".

Santa Fe

Rick Bartow

IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
108 Cathedral Place
August 19–December 31, 2016

One corner of Rick Bartow’s retrospective, organized just before his death earlier this year, features a suite of early drawings and prints dating back to 1979 and a later painting of a male figure with a crow twice its size resting on its torso. The crow in Hunter’s Tale Remembered, 2009, seems poised to devour the man. The painting’s rich black background and the furious marks shading the animal’s body are as ominous as the sinister situation depicted. Bartow consistently returned to this tension between human and animal—the idea that there is an animal inside all of us and that this hybridity lends us power as well as the potential for self-destruction—throughout his nearly five-decade career.

He developed a mastery of pastels and exploited the medium’s velvety textures to portray men as bears and dogs, skull-faced figures sprouting wings amid vibrant colors thickly and almost violently applied to paper. The exhibition’s centerpieces, though, due to their large scale, are his acrylic paintings on canvas and wood sculptures. The sculptures convey a physicality and force through their use of raw wood and hardware: nails hammered into a face or neck, or a hatchet used as a leg on a human-headed dog, as in Man Acting Like Dog, 2009. His gestural style, distorted figuration, and the crabbed, handwritten text on the paintings suggest an interest in artists such as Francis Bacon or Jean-Michel Basquiat. But his content hearkens to the traditions of his Wiyot Tribe ancestors, evoking an exploration of his identity as a Native American as well as a Vietnam veteran and a recovering addict. In this light, Bartow’s composite forms speak to his own desire to represent complex and often conflicting historical narratives.