Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

George Longfish

 By Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds

Modern Times, 1994 Photo lithograph, 3 panels (41 ½ x 30 ½ inches each) Courtesy of the artist

Modern Times, 1994 Photo lithograph, 3 panels (41 ½ x 30 ½ inches each) Courtesy of the artist

 George Longfish (Seneca/Tuscarora) has worked in the field of contemporary Native American art as an artist, educator, writer, and curator for over thirty years. He served as Professor in the Department of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, from 1973 to 2003 and director of the Carl N. Gorman Museum from 1974 to 1996. Trained as a painter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received his MFA in 1972, Longfish was influenced formally by abstract expressionism, and spiritually by what he calls “warrior information.”[1] According to Longfish, “the greatest lesson we can learn is that we can bring spirituality and warrior information from the past and use it in the present and see that it still works.”[2] It is this spirituality inherent to the traditions of Indigenous peoples that inspires him to create large paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures that challenge viewers with social and political issues affecting modern Indian life. [3]

In an essay for the exhibition Continuum: 12 Artists (2004) at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, scholar Molly McGlennen states, “it is with spirit George Longfish enters the creative act, and it is with spirit that he is guided through and beyond it. As he steps into a painting, he and the work create dialogue, a space mutually respectful and adaptable.”[4] She is describing Longfish’s approach to The End of Innocence (1993), a three-panel painting that is ten feet tall and twenty-five feet in width.  Longfish created the piece for Indigena (1992), an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, as a response to the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas.[5] Longfish re-appropriates nineteenth century photographs of two warriors (Pawnee Chief Pita Lisaru and Medicine Crow) and places them amidst stenciled words that describe the process of colonization. Words like “sacred land,” “self-determination,” and “survival” are juxtaposed with “toxic waste,” “assimilation,” and “acculturation.” The narrative quality of the piece is matched in emotion by the color palette wherein fiery slashes of reds and oranges are balanced above and below by dark blues and cool greens. To Longfish, the painting represents a level of maturity in his work in terms of line, form, composition, and story.[6]

In Blood Line or Accepted Federal Government Standard for Blood Quantum (2005), Longfish confronts the racist construction of Native identities in the United States that have historically “reduc[ed] the human to a measurable substance, a breed, a certain amount of blood.”[7] In this stylistic departure, the artist paints thick black text on a red, ten-foot panel divided in six sections that reads “RED MAN, FULL BLOOD, 1/2 BREED, 1/4 BLOOD, 1/8 BLOOD, 1/16 BLOOD.” Longfish has commented that the use of words as a stylistic element has come full circle at this point in his career: “the words were part of the painting, but now they are just words.”[8] Since retiring to Maine in 2003, Longfish continues to develop these word pieces while keeping in touch with the Native art movement he was so instrumental in propelling forward.

Blood Line or Accepted Federal Government Standard for Blood Quantum, 2005 Acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches Courtesy of the artist

Blood Line or Accepted Federal Government Standard for Blood Quantum, 2005 Acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Neal Keating, “George C. Longfish,” in Native Perspectives: George Longfish/Shelly Niro (Clinton, NY: Emerson Gallery, Hamilton College, 2006), 7.

[2]  George Longfish, “Artist Statement,” in Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives, ed. Gerald McMaster and Lee-Ann Martin (Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization and Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992), 151. Exhibition Catalogue.

[3] See George Longfish: A Retrospective (Montana: University of Montana Press and Montana Museum of Art & Culture, 2007) for a more detailed discussion of his works.

[4] Molly McGlennen, “George Longfish: Displacing the Lies” (New York: National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution, George Gustav Heye Center, February 28-May 23, 2004).

[5] See Gerald McMaster and Lee-Ann Martin, eds., Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives (Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilzation and Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992).

[6] George Longfish, telephone interview by author, May 8, 2010.

[7] Keating, “Longfish,” 10.

[8] George Longfish, telephone interview by author, May 8, 2010.

 

Additional Resources compiled by students in the Contemporary Native Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Art, Spring 2013.

 

Web-based Resources

 

Durden, Bob. “George Longfish: A Retrospective.” The Square.org. Paris Gibson Square, Inc. 2008. http://www.the-square.org/PDF/Geo_Longfish.pdf.

This is a link that leads to a pdf that I assume was used as an exhibition brochure. This pdf contains a description of the George Longfish: A Retrospective exhibition presented by the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. The exhibition description also contains a variety of images that are works by Longfish.

 

Hurst, Sam. “George Longfish Retrospective Brings Bold Native Identity to the Dahl Arts Center.” Dakota Day.com. 2009. http://www.dakotaday.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=104:george-longfish-retrospective-brings-bold-native-identity-to-at-the-dahl-arts-center-&catid=8:at-the-dahl&Itemid=19.

This link leads to an online article of The Dakota Day: A Journal Of Opinion And News Analysis From The Northern Plains. This article comments on how the George Longfish Retrospective exhibition, on display at the Dahl Arts Center in 2009, was a step forward for the establishment in the exhibition of “bold statements.” This article also comments on how Longfish’s work reflects political awareness and activism among Native Americans.

 

“Images of Identity.” al.csus.edu. California State University. http://www.al.csus.edu/sota/ulg/pastexhibits/images-of-identity/site/longfish.html.

This link leads to a website for the Images of Identity exhibition, curated by Frank LePena, held at California State University in Sacramento, California. George Longfish was chosen for this exhibition his ability to challenge viewers. The George Longfish page of this website provides a short biography as well as images of Longfish’s submissions, Five Hundred Year Survivor, 2001 (acrylic on paper) and Born To Be Wild (Baby Mask), 1990 (mixed medium).

 

McGlennen, Molly. “George Longfish.” NMAI.SI.edu. Smithsonian Institution. 2004. http://www.nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/continuum/files_pdf/george.pdf.

This link leads to a pdf, which was used as a brochure for the Continuum 12 Artists exhibition, held at the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in 2004. This was mentioned and quoted in Shanna Ketchum-Heap of Birds’s essay in the book New Native Art Criticism: Manifestations.

 

McGlennen, Molly. “Text-Messaging Prayers: George Longfish and His Art of Communicating.” YouTube.com. 2009. Podcast. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy2vi3_qutU.

This link leads to a podcast on the YouTube website that was posted by the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. On this page is a link that leads to the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture podcast website, which is pretty interesting.  

 

Selected Bibliography 

 

Ketchum– Heap of Birds, Shanna. “George Longfish.” New Native Art Criticism: Manifestations. Santa Fe: Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 2011.

This is a short biography, as presented above, for George Longfish in the book New Native Art Criticism: Manifestations. Included in this short bio are descriptions of Longfish’s End of Innocence and Blood Line or Accepted Federal Government Standard for Blood Quantum. Also included are images of Blood Line or Accepted Federal Government Standard for Blood Quantum and Modern Times, works by Longfish. This book also features a significant selection of other Native Artists.