This is our second Native American Spotlight for the website. This spotlight is for the world renowned .GIF artist George RedHawk. For the next week I will be showcasing his Art as the picture of the day on Twitter and Facebook. I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I have.
“What is your Native American heritage?”
I am what has been called an “Urban Indian” born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Ca. I was the 4th son born into a household that was raised in a Latino community. From a very early age, my parents recognized that I was much different than my brothers and I always felt “misplaced” and a sense of “not quite fitting in”.
It was my grandmother who told me of my heritage and the history of our Chiricahua roots. I grew to love the summers that I spent with her and the stories she told me. It helped fill a void for me to understand more about myself. Like many Natives who were displaced, much of the history had been lost and I yearned to learn more of who I was.
As I grew up, I was given liberties that my older brothers were not given. They would become upset for reasons they could never understand. From a young age (13 years old) it was not uncommon for me to feel the need to escape the urban world. I would ride my bicycle 10 miles up into the local mountains and spend several days in a canyon at a secret place by a river.
When I reached the age to drive, my first desire was to further explore my culture and I went to my first Pow Wow. Although the overwhelming sense of belonging was felt deeply in my heart, there was also the familiar sense of “not quite fitting in” as well. I’m sure many “urban Indians” have experienced this. When in the “white world” there is the feeling as if you did not fit in because you were an Indian. Then when you’re in the “Indian world” there is the feeling as if you did not fit in because I live in the “white world”. It was that way for me at times, but my desire to fill the void in my heart led me to find many Native people. During my travels I met Natives from many different tribes that embraced me, taught me, and “welcomed me home”.
It took many years for my family to understand my need to seek out my cultural roots. During this time I was ridiculed by my brothers. I was the source of main concern by my mother (who had embraced Catholicism). I also was the source of my father’s anger who felt the time I spent with “los Indios” was a waste of my time. Then my desire to proudly grow my hair long became a constant source of disputes between us in my household.
As time passed, I became the teacher of my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and my cousins. They all eventually came to realize that I was the only one left in the family who had remained true to the right path. There came a time that they all realized that I was the last remaining member of my family who retained the knowledge of our people.
The son who was once ridiculed, became a source of pride to our family. My parents and uncles even researched further into our history. Researching into my father’s family side acknowledged our Tarahumara roots , We have now completed the circle, and it feels good.
When did you start doing art like this?
I had a very successful career in many areas of the Medical profession. I even became an Instructor in various areas of medicine throughout my years. This included Licenses to teach Medical Assisting, Radiologic Technicians, Emergency Cardiac Care, Basic Life Support, Phlebotomy, and Medical Management/Billing and Claims. I continued to teach for 4 years following my declaration of legal blindness. The progression of my vision loss eventually ended my career.
The prognosis of my condition was very poor. I had to acknowledge that it would eventually result in total blindness. Due to this I ended up descending into a very dark place in my life. I began a frantic search to seek out all the beautiful things I could possibly see on the internet to fill my mind with memories to carry with me into the darkness. This search led me to a new appreciation of the world of art and an understanding of how expressive art truly is. It led me to believe that it could possibly become a means to express and release the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing in silence.
I had no knowledge of how to create digital art in the beginning. I self-taught myself with a desire to show the world from a perspective that others have not seen before.
“You are legally blind but your art work is so beautiful. Are you just partially blind?”
The term “legally blind” is a source of confusion to many people. Simply put, it means that I have suffered profound damage to my vision and that I retain partial sight. It is however, not enough vision to function without assistance. It cannot be corrected, and it is a 100% permanent disability.
In my case, I am very fortunate. With the help of computer technology to adjust size, brightness, etc., I can still have good functional abilities on a computer. My doctors however still can’t figure out exactly how I am even able to read. All the exams and test have shown that I have lost over 90% of my vision. By all rights, a person with my visual loss should not be able to do this at all.
Most of what I “see” are from memories that my mind uses to fill in the blanks and then converts it to “vision”.
A good example of this is a time when I was told “hey, look who’s here!” I looked and looked and finally said, “I’m sorry, I can’t figure out who you are”. She said “it’s me dad” and suddenly I could clearly see my daughter’s face. We both cried and I am crying now as I speak of this.
Strange things have occurred when I “see” things. There is a process my mind goes through as it tries to determine what exactly I am looking at. It is sort of like a question with multiple choice answers, and as always with “multiple choice” there is always a choice D. “None of the above”, ha ha ha!
My mind tries to insert “vision” based upon faulty data being sent from my corrupted vision. It morphs and changes constantly as my mind tries in desperation to covert this data into sight. It is this process of changing, morphing, and flowing confusion that you see projected into my art. Morphing .gifs seemed the most logical way to express this, so I began to experiment. Now in the art world they call this type of art “The RedHawk Effect”.
As you can imagine, there is much more to blindness than “I don’t see so well”. The range of emotions, the constant re-adaptation and acclimation as I continue to suffer more visual loss over time. I expect that someday I will lose another career. This will be another Career I have worked so hard to achieve and I have grown to love….This is something that words cannot express. So yes, my art does indeed fluctuate and varies to the many emotions. I have never learned how to share with anyone things that are buried deep down in a place within me, that even I refuse to go.
Even with my battle of losing my sight, my connection to nature has remained. I am very fortunate to have found a place to live which is close to a river that meets the sea. With the addition of Shish-Inday, my beloved Malamute/wolf as my guide. We travel everyday up the river and along the sea, which has become essential to keeping my balance. I wouldn’t say that my loss of sight has enhanced my sense of flow, rather it has given me a better appreciation for it. (Joking I would say “any day that I don’t fall off a cliff is a good day”). It is difficult to explain to others. I’m sure natives will have no problem in understanding that “I see through his eyes and he sees through mine”. It is a bond that words cannot express.
“Do you have Visions of your work before you create them?”
In the beginning yes, I did. It was an experiment of developing the technical skill to attempt to express the world through my eyes. I would look at an image and then try to duplicate the bizarre metamorphic process that occurs as I experienced the art. As my technical skills developed over time I came to the same realization that I had to adapt with my blindness. I cannot drive, I cannot direct, I cannot lead, I am blind. My attempts to direct and control my art was not possible. I had to release that desire of control and instead permit the art to take me on the journey wherever it may lead. It was then that the visions became clear and the world began to take notice of my work. So now, I have Visions as I create my art rather than to seek Visions before beginning.
“Do you ever reflect back on a piece and wonder if others get what you’re trying to express?”
For many years I created my art without mention of my blindness. So yes, it was a completely mystery to everyone what I was expressing, ha ha ha.
Over a several day period I had developed my confidence and friendship with an interviewer. In the conclusion of our interview I asked him “is this a good time to mention that I am blind?” To my surprise, the story broke as an exclusive and quickly spread all over the world in every media source you can imagine!
“How long on average does it take for you to finish a piece?”
When I find an image that calls to me, I tend to feel an excitement that grows within me. I know I’m about to travel on a journey that will take me away from the blindness. I live for every moment of every day because of being blind, and there are not too many opportunities to do so. From the moment I begin, till the moment it is finished, there is no such thing as time. I feel as if I have entered into the spirit world and crossed over into a different realm of existence. Crossing over has an effect on me emotionally. There is a sadness to return to this world and a yearning to remain in this place. I am only permitted to visit but I cannot stay.
On a average it takes 1-3 hours to complete a piece, and on a good day I can produce 2-3 pieces. This is also dependent upon Shish-Indays insistence that I return to the real world when I travel too far away.
“Do you have a specific piece that is your favorite?”
I have many, many favorites, I have photo albums that you can check out at my Google+ profile. Because there are so many, I have created several volumes entitled “The World Through My Eyes”. I always enjoy to see which ones “call to” others. There are so many it could take you hours and hours to go through them all, ha ha ha!