“I paint to understand the world that surrounds me,” he says, as he swiftly applies gold leaf to an 8-foot-tall painting depicting Sioux warrior Lone Wolf.
“It really makes his vest pop,” he points out.
Nearby, another monumental canvas, “From Guernica to Wounded Knee,” is a Picasso-influenced take on the 1890, 7th Cavalry Regiment-led massacre.
Other pieces feature traditional imagery painted over maps, comic books, Monopoly game tablets and sheets of money.
“What comes up is the guilt of the stolen land and the killing of the buffalo,” Natchez says, adding that some people have been moved to tears by his work.
“When I was younger, I struggled to paint that, to put it out there, but as I matured as a father, grandfather and as a human being even, I really understood that it was important to show that we survived the winter. The mightier the storm, the stronger the resistance,” he says.
Other, lighter pieces are laced with humor and wit, reflecting his playful persona.
Comprising more than 100 works, the renowned artist’s latest endeavor, Indian Without Reservation, is a family affair, as Natchez displays alongside his sons, Viento and Gino (see Arts Valve, July 25: “Cuff Guy”).
“It’s a rare opportunity. Maybe I don’t tell them enough, but when I’m not around them, I brag about what they’re doing, you know?” he says, adding that he receives as much artistic motivation from them as they do from him. “They’ll inspire me by saying ‘Oh, come on! Is that all you can do?’”
This infusing of new blood is something Natchez thinks should happen naturally in events like Indian Market.
“What happened over the years, [was that] people started homesteading their booths and they’ve been in them for 10, 20 years and they don’t want to let that corner go,” he says. “It’s the time to let the youth give us some insight, because I think your best teacher is your student.”
Always outspoken, Natchez also mentions that those ready to apply labels to his work should take a step back.
“I’ll paint sunflowers and nudes, and a collector once asked me, ‘Are your nudes Indian nudes?’ I answered, ‘Well, would you ask Jimi Hendrix, ‘Are those black nudes?’’’
“If I paint a nude, it doesn’t matter who she is. I’m Native, and I’m painting.”