Deviney Luchsinger/Multimedia Specialist
Native painter finds his roots through art
WASHINGTON, D.C. — His hands were covered in splotches of yellow, red and blue paint. He delicately maneuvered the brush over the canvas creating elegant strokes. The brush seemed to know where to go effortlessly before he even directed it. He stepped back and observed his work, then he dipped the brush in an old water bottle filled with dirty paint water, and continued.
Starr Hardridge is a Muscogee (Creek) citizen and artist who performed a live painting demonstration at the 2017 Mvskoke Etvlwv Festival.
The piece he was painting was a large profile of a Native American woman exhaling out a breath filled with butterflies and birds. The colors were vivid, water color-style earth tones complimented with turquoise accents.
Growing up, Starr spent a great deal of time near Anadarko, Oklahoma and has been creating art since he was a small child.
He was first inspired by the Comanche and Kiowa art of the area. The style was very flat and depicted different aspects of the tribes.
He taught himself how to draw by copying the tribal art hanging on the walls of his family home.
After high school, Starr knew he wanted to study art, so he attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, back in the Muscogee (Creek) homelands.
After he finished his schooling, he started painting houses and hotels, and eventually started his own decorative painting business in 2006.
This led him to renovate some houses that sold, which gave him enough money to study decorative painting in the south of France for seven months. During this time, he mastered different techniques such as faux marble, faux wood and trumploy ornamentation.
Starr has completed several large restorative projects including restoring art in the U.S. Capital building as well as other federal buildings.
While in France, he discovered the work of Georges Seurat, who was a post Impressionist artist in the late 1800s. He was known for innovating, a style of painting that uses carefully placed dots to create a larger image.
Through pointillism, Starr replicates the idea of Native glass beadwork in his paintings.
The process is time consuming. One of his smaller pieces takes an average of six to eight hours, and his larger ones take 180 to 190 hours to complete.
His largest piece in this style titled, ‘Return from Exile’ was started in March 2015 and was completed in late July 2017.
His process is simple. He starts each piece with a stretched canvas he covers in a plaster mesh, followed by a Venetian plaster. While it is still wet, he pulls the mesh, revealing a grid he uses as a guide for his patterns. Then he finishes it smooth.
Next, he does the preliminary drawing followed by carefully blocking in the color fields with tiny, carefully placed dots. Then he outlines the subject with dots in a contrasting color.
Starr then adds a glossy top coat to give it the light catching effect of glass beads.
“Doing the pointillism style is really meditative for me,” Starr said. “It’s very time consuming, and it’s really personal. It’s something I usually do alone.”
He said he does not usually like doing live paintings because it is out of his comfort zone, but he felt an obligation to his Creek people to help spread the culture.
This was Starr’s first time at the Mvskoke Etvlwv Festival and the first time he has been recognized as a Native artist by his tribe.
The live painting he worked on was a copy of one of his original pieces called, ‘Master of Breath’. What he describes as giver and taker of breath, which is in the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee.
“It’s a figure I’ve always been drawn to being an artist and creator myself,” he said. “For me, it’s a vehicle of energy.”
Starr said the different lines and fissures in the piece are representations of the continuing energy that flows through all living creatures.
Being a descendant of the Bird Clan, he wanted to pay homage to his ancestors by depicting the birth of all winged creatures, specifically the birds and the butterflies.
Starr said living outside of Indian Country made him feel disconnected to his tribe and his culture, especially when he lived abroad. Through his art, he said it has built a bridge back to an identity that he once lost.
“By me doing art, and specifically Mvskoke-inspired paintings, has brought me back to a Native art community that I feel like I am a part of,” he said.
Through these connections, he was invited to attend his first Green Corn Ceremony. When he was there, although he still felt like an outlier, he was not anything other than Mvskoke.
“A lot of times it’s the other way around,” he said. “It’s the culture that inspired the art. But for me it was something that grew into being part of something bigger than myself.”
You can find more of his work at: www.starrhardridge.com.