Gas Station History

The paints and inks of Daniel McCoy

"I guess I got into it because my dad was an artist," artist Daniel McCoy (Muskogee Creek/Potawatomi) says of his own practice. "Well, a frustrated artist. And a biker."

McCoy's father, a non-Native, plied his skills as an automotive detailer; clean lines and pinstriping on motorcycle gas tanks and reinvigorated cars. McCoy says his dad's work reminded him of the flatline Native art of his childhood home near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"I had no idea it was not culturally related," he continues with a laugh.

Still, it inspired him; as he bloomed artistically, he turned as well to some of the usual suspects that have inspired so many contemporary creators: comic books,
cartoons and Jack Kirby. By the early '90s, McCoy was working as a billboard painter in Oklahoma, but it was also around the time he was accepted to the Institute of American Indian Arts and moved to Santa Fe. Between classes, he was still a sign-maker, which led to crafting signs for Canyon Road galleries and, eventually, the museum system where he'd also work as an art handler.

"I'd do my own art on the side; assistant work, and shows, too," he recalls, "and it all started with Hot Wheels and Star Wars figures."

For his next foray, McCoy joins forces with Midtown DIY space Etiquette for Allsup's at the Hinterlands, a sort of culmination of a slow and steady recent consumption and exploration of local landscapes and culture. Curator and
Etiquette co-founder Drew Lenihan calls it a "mid-career retrospective," a type of exhibit we don't often see in more mainstream institutions. For the show, McCoy and Lenihan spent months conversing on ideas of geography, history, colonization and artistry; Hinterlands is the result of that unusually collaborative effort.

From his studio space at the Poeh Cultural Center in Pojoaque, which he shares with his former IAIA instructor Mateo Romero, McCoy employs a hybrid use of reds, oranges, yellows and blues for Mondrian-esque boxes of color beneath depictions of New Mexico's arid hills, mountains, arroyos and flora, which he paints by brush with India ink and which recall a certain graphic novel style similar to the backgrounds of R Crumb's take on the Book of Genesis. The color work is often acrylic, though the show also features oils, watercolors and enamels.

Included in the pieces as well are the ephemera and figurations of adobe buildings set against the edge of the desert, a statement on how geography changes, civilization spreads and the places we encounter spawn memories good and bad. Of particular note are the Allsup's chain of gas stations/convenience stores that find their way into the work. McCoy's use of color wound up mimicking Allsup's color scheme (earthy tones of red and bright, dreamy blues), though it was not intentional; the chain is so intrinsically New Mexican, McCoy says, it just sort of happened that way.

"I include the Allsup's elements, because I believe they're hubs of culture," he tells SFR. "Otherwise, I've really never stuck to stucco red or turquoise or sagebrush and mustard yellow."

For McCoy, Allsup's also represents memories of similar convenience stores from his childhood, as well as his first years in Santa Fe, when IAIA was located at the Santa Fe Indian School and then the former College of Santa Fe campus—a time that was also indicative, he says, of his first tastes of true freedom, even if gas station food marts can represent economic disparities. Today, McCoy has spent more years of his life in New Mexico than Oklahoma—but in those first Santa Fe years, Allsup's became a new focus for him, from the people he'd meet there to the simple pleasures of buying his own Coca-Cola.

Such landscapes, he says, were far from his goal not so long ago.

"In school, I'd avoid the instructors I knew were heavy on the landscape side of things. But now, I see Mateo on a regular basis, we talk art. And when we started talking about classic painting, he said, 'You should get more into classic painting, do things like nudes and landscapes,'" McCoy explains. "Well, I stopped doing landscapes 20 years ago, but I was hiking on the Pueblo and was kind of astounded by the sights. [Mateo] fired me up 20 years ago, he fired me up now."

As for working with Etiquette, that, too, clicked for McCoy. In his younger days, he attended raves in the same warehouse space, and a former band of his called Tiny Sandwiches also practiced there.

"I've done so many group shows at Etiquette where I worked with numerous artists, and I wanted to change it up and work more intimately with one artist," Lenihan says. "We talked a lot about progress; how cities change, how specific places tie into Danny's larger narrative, what the Siler [Road area] was like before."

McCoy, meanwhile, loves the synergy of the space and couldn't think of any place else he'd rather show this body of work.

"I really admire the intellect that [Etiquette's] group has and the artists they're showing," he says, "and besides, I have blood, sweat and tears in that spot."

Allsup's at the Hinterlands: The Art of Daniel McCoy
6 pm Friday May 10. Free.
2889 Trades West Road Ste. E

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