Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nothing Conventional About This Indian Artist


Chunks of asphalt suspended from the frame of a teepee over a bed of aerial maps.

Shreds of old tires, cast in rubber molds and shaped into a war shield that's split down the middle with a white zigzagged line.

A door frame wallpapered with real-estate ads and pictures of American Indians, the word SOLD sprawled in bold letters. The title: "Welcome to the Res."

There is nothing traditional about Corwin "Corky" Clairmont's artwork. In unconventional ways, he's spent a lifetime challenging the viewers of his work to understand what he has to say. Every piece of his artwork gives way to ironic twists and turns, full of social and political commentary as it relates to his American Indian culture.

The Artist is Immersed in the Culture
"For me, art is about life," Clairmont said in a reserved, soft-spoken tone that belies the brash force of his artwork. "Anything you're engaged in gives substance that might filter into a project. You have to be a participant in life."

As a longtime assistant vice president and art instructor at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Clairmont is immersed in the culture from which he draws inspiration for his art.

One of his most recent works, "Indian Country Passage Denied," is a perfect example of the provocative nature of his work. The collagraph depicts modern-day passport images of Lewis and Clark against a colorful background meant to reflect American Indians' rich past. In a portfolio of Clairmont's prints, "Native Perspectives on the Trail," the commentary points out that Lewis and Clark's historic expedition "was one of exploration but also the demonstration of arrogant superiority and the cementing of territorial lines.

"Lewis and Clark did not proceed as guests in a foreign land, but as conquerors ... Clairmont's print leads us to ask: 'What if Lewis and Clark needed passports and what if their passage had been denied?'">>

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