NORMAN — People should worry about an artist who completes a painting in 45 minutes to an hour, Tony Abeyta says.
Yet the crowd watched as Abeyta finished in an hour's time on Sunday, an autumn-inspired landscape featuring aspens hit by shimmering sunlight.
Abeyta, who has studios in Santa Fe, N.M., and Chicago, was one of five artists who offered live art demonstrations during a Community Celebration in honor of the James T. Bialac Native American Art Collection at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The collection, a gift from Bialac, who lives in Arizona, contains more than 4,000 works representing indigenous cultures across North America, especially the Pueblos of the Southwest, the Navajo, the Hopi, many of the tribes of the Northern and Southern Plains and the Southeastern tribes.
Abeyta talked of the importance of art patrons such as Bialac while he mixed oils, then put brush to canvas to create a painting “from memory” of what aspens look like as they change colors in the fall in New Mexico.
“A lot of what I do is based on memory. It's my emotional response to the landscape,” Abeyta said.
Abeyta said he does not usually complete an oil painting in a small window of time.
“The true magic happens when you step back and think about it for a couple of days,” he said.
Abeyta, who is part Navajo, was raised in Gallup, N.M., where he watched his father, Narciso Abeyta, paint on weekends.
“It didn't matter to Dad whether other people liked it. He loved what he did. ... He'd sell a painting, and we'd get a T-bone. I didn't think at first I would be an artist, because I didn't think you could actually make a living at art.”
His views changed when he left home at 16 to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He later studied at the Maryland Institute's College of Art in Baltimore and the Chicago Art Institute. Thanks to a Ford Foundation grant, he also studied in the south of France and Italy.
Abeyta said he grew up around some of the artists featured in the Bialac collection, watching them work “and thinking they were amazing.”
Role of collectors
Art collectors become the patrons who make it possible for artists to continue their work, Abeyta said.
Collectors begin “because they are specifically moved by art, usually a piece of art they see in a museum. Then they become patrons. ... They become the catalysts for more creations. We are all connected. We all need each other,” he said.
Bialac began collecting in 1964. His collection now includes a variety of media and spans 100 years. Bialac said Sunday he didn't confine his purchases to any certain tribe, region, style or artist, but rather bought what he considered to be quality art pieces.
The collection features about 2,600 paintings and works on paper, 1,000 kachinas and 100 pieces of jewelry that represent major American Indian artists such as Fred Kabotie, Awa Tsireh, Fritz Scholder, Joe Herrera, Allan Houser, Jerome Tiger, Tonita Pena, Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, George Morrison, Richard “Dick” West, Patrick DesJarlait and Pop Chalee.
Their work, paired with the museum's previously donated Native and Southwest collections (the Eugene B. Adkins Collection and the Rennard Strickland Collection) provides a complete look into Native American art throughout the 20th century, said Heather Ahtone, James T. Bialac curator of Native American and non-Western art.
The combined collections have made OU an important institute to study Native American 20th century art, Ahtone said.
Also demonstrating their work Sunday were Ben Harjo, woodblock; Linda Lomahaftewa, monotype; America Meredith, watercolor; and Anita Fields, clay.