First Solo

Artist Terran Last Gun on his life, art and getting there

(Courtesy the Artist)

As artist Terran Last Gun gears up for his first-ever solo show at newly minted Canyon Road space Hecho a Mano, as well as a first-time appearance at this summer's Indian Market, it's time to help put him on the map.

Last Gun hails from Browning, Montana, and the Blackfeet Reservation. There, he says, the borders between Canada and Glacier National Park have drastically changed and cut down on his people's ability to exist and thrive over the years. His tribe has certainly dwindled, though he also says those still there are
going strong. As a youth in Montana, his artistic interests rested more in dance as well as in the archival and exhibition categories.

"My dad—he's definitely an artist, too, and a historian for our tribe in terms of the images he uses—told me about the museum studies program that [the Institute for American Indian Arts] offers, because I was really interested, and still am, in the care and representation of cultural objects within collection-based settings," he tells SFR. "I was drawn to that program, but it was at IAIA where I started to take art classes as something to do; it was printmaking that really struck me as the most exciting."

Last Gun graduated with a BFA in museum studies, and his own work has
taken other forms such as photography. But his skillful hand creates some of the cleanest and most colorful prints I've ever seen. For his self-titled run, which he'll show at Hecho a Mano starting this week, Last Gun sought influence back home.

"It's inspired by how home follows you and, specifically, the Blackfoot painted lodges, which were pretty rare within my tribe," he explains. "[The paintings] were on the exterior of the lodge, and usually the owner received [the imagery] through a dream. It was broken into three parts: the bottom, being the land, the mountains; the middle, being whatever that authority is, like an animal, a bird or a natural water element; and the top, the sky world and cosmologies, the … stars, clouds, rains."

Last Gun says the lodges and their paintings would eventually wear out over time, and his people would "give it back to the sun" before recreating it all over again. "It was alive, in a sense," he says. "And no one dared replicate a lodge without permission of the owner."

Last Gun's depictions of his own histories are more open to interpretation, but he adopted the three-tiered format as a nod to the practice with a focus on doorways or portals which, he says, were a common theme within his tribe.

"I've come across different things in terms of meaning, and it can either be a doorway for the spirit helper, or it could be for the sun—rising in the East, it shines through the human door, setting in the West, it leaves through that back door," Last Gun says. "But there's this idea of constantly moving, being on a path, or almost how when one door closes, another opens."

Last Gun's pieces are more abstract than their inspiration, with vertical bars representing trails and the rectangle or square representing the aforementioned doorway. For the color scheme, he sought relaxing and soothing tones to play with the concept of elevated spirituality through mood. As for the decision to use serigraphs (an ink-on-paper technique similar to silk screening, the most famous of which may be Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe or his Campbell's Soup can), Last Gun says the he finds the medium enticing as a piece of labor-intensive fine art, as a way to make multiple original editions by hand, and as a great artistic leveler.

"I think paper can be more accessible than canvas or other mediums," he says. "As long as you have a flat surface, you can print on anything."

Unlike many printmakers, however, Last Gun uses an uncommon full bleed technique wherein an entire piece of paper receives a base color, upon which he builds further layers with screens also crafted by hand. For now, he's auditing courses at IAIA for access to equipment but, if the year goes well, he hopes to build his own studio and setup. And the year does look promising. Just last week, Last Gun showed at the Museum of New Mexico Foundation's Native Treasures event for the fourth year running and, at this year's Indian Market, he'll show alongside his father, though in separate booths. Perhaps most impressive, however, is that he's done it all while embracing a methodology and ethos based in personal artistic freedom.

"I feel like I've just been flying under the radar and creating work slowly and meeting people who maybe appreciate it," Last Gun says. "I've been taking my time and building up all these things; I've been feeling on the verge of being overwhelmed, but I'm able to take the pressure off somehow. I have to give credit to my partner Samantha, who helps me with everything and who I'm sure gets tired of hearing about my art—but in terms of the body I'm working on, I just want to explore."

Terran Last Gun
5 pm Friday May 31. Free. Through June 22.
Hecho a Mano,
830 Canyon Road,

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