No doubt Bob Coronato‘s portrait of Native American activist Russell Means (right) caused more than a few jaws to drop at the Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale currently on view at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.
Generally, the paintings in this annual event tend to portray historical scenes of Native Americans. This portrait captures a living Native American, a man of our time. Means is depicted draped in an upside-down American flag, an international signal of distress. Indeed, Coronato says he received lots of comments, including one viewer at the opening who said, “That was so far outside the box, you never saw the box.”
The painting was a decade in the making. Coronato acquired the activist and writer’s e-mail address and explained how he wanted to paint him as an important historical figure. It took several more years after that initial approach, but the artist finally got an invitation to Mean’s house. “We talked for a few hours about politics, reservation life and what kind of thoughts I had for the portrait.” Coronato says. “Russell seemed worried that I wanted to put him in a war bonnet and paint him as if he was living 100 years ago. He said to me, ‘I’m a late 20th century Indian, and that’s how I want to be portrayed.'”
While they talked, Means was sending out tweets, and for the painting no war bonnet was in sight. “The watch and T-shirt describe how Indians are—not the idea of old Hollywood westerns or to be thought of as ‘in the past’ but a people very much of today and with a rich history,” Coronato explains. R. Means is the first in a series of portraits of high-profile Native Americans the artist plans to create.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS