Poteet Victory

Origin of the Symbol, oil & sand, 60 x 44. painting southwest art
Origin of the Symbol, oil & sand, 60 x 44.

By John Villani

For artists whose work is entirely unique, capturing the attention of gallery owners and collectors often requires a long, uphill climb. Laboring against the all-powerful status quo, they stare failure in the face and stay true to their course, no matter the well-meaning advice of friends and the barbs of art critics.

Poteet Victory [b1947] has walked this path, and while he’s survived to enjoy the fruits of success, he doesn’t allow himself the luxury of forgetting what it was like to work his way up from the bottom rung.

In many ways he’s still very much the young ranch hand who grew up in Idabel, OK, a small town in the far southeast corner of the state. Reflective, he listens to classic rock on the radio while he’s painting and speculates on how successive, time-consuming applications of oil paints will result in evocative images.

“I want my work to touch the psyche of the viewer,” says the dark-haired, strikingly handsome artist. “With abstract images, it’s all about creating an illusion, something like flashcards that speak to each individual in different way.

“Whether it’s the combination of colors, the images or the shapes that attract someone’s attention to my paintings doesn’t matter as much as the end result namely, reaching some part of their subconscious. I concentrate on getting a reaction, and when people tell me that my paintings have an effect but they can’t put their finger on what it is, I think to myself, ‘I know why.’”


Songs of the People, oil & sand, 60 x 44. painting southwest art
Songs of the People, oil & sand, 60 x 44.

Poteet Victory’s unusual name derives from his Oklahoma heritage. Born Robert Poteet, his last-name-turned-first comes from his mother’s side of the family, which has roots in Louisiana’s Cajun culture. Victory comes from his paternal grandmother, Willie Victory, a full-blood Choctaw-Cherokee who was an important influence in the artist’s life during his teenage years. Through her sharing of the family’s tribal histories, Victory became more fully aware of the cultural dichotomy residing within him.

That dichotomy is al-so seen in the artist’s creative output, which moves between representational forms and abstract expressions. Some pieces balance the two styles of painting, but for the most part the works are either abstract or they reference Native American symbols. “Native American images are an energy that flows out of me,” he says, “but they’re not the sum total of what I’m capable of doing. I don’t want to be limited by those who would label my work.”

Labeling is something Victory understands. Following art studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, in 1971-72, Victory spent about eight years designing and printing t-shirts, first on a small scale and then for major accounts such as Frito Lay, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and CBS Records. Although he found it a lucrative venture, art continued to pull at him, especially when he remembered the example of Harold Stevenson, an Abstract Expressionist with whom Victory studied as an 11-year-old. From Stevenson, Victory learned about technique, but he also adopted the philosophy that he could make a living as an artist. Stevenson, who carved out a reputation in the New York modernist scene of the 1950s and ’60s, suggested that Victory study at the Art Students League in New York and provided an introduction to the art scene there.

Turn of the Ages of the Human Beings, oil & sand, 50 x 52. painting southwest art
Turn of the Ages of the Human Beings, oil & sand, 50 x 52.

“Before I left Oklahoma, Harold called Andy Warhol to let him know I was coming into town,” relates Victory. “Andy said I should drop by his place, and I took him at his word. From La Guardia airport I shared a cab ride into the city with a Wall Street stockbroker who asked me where I was heading. When I told him Andy Warhol’s place, he gave me a funny look, but it was nothing compared to the expression that came over his face when Andy himself opened the door of his brownstone and waved me inside.”

More than anything else, those years at the Art Students League turned out to be an exercise in finding ways to make his paintings immediately recognizable, says Victory. “I also pursued the basics—light, shade and color—but they damn sure didn’t teach me to paint the way I’m painting today,” he says with a hearty laugh.

Victory’s brushes with the upper crust of New York’s art scene turned out to be infrequent, pleasant diversions from the more serious tasks in ASL classrooms. When he returned to Oklahoma, he enrolled at Central State University, Edmond, where he received a BFA in 1986. He was offered a scholarship for the MFA program at Tulsa University, which he ultimately turned down.

As a Man Thinketh oil, 40 x 60. painting, southwest art.
As a Man Thinketh oil, 40 x 60.

From there Victory eventually made his way to Santa Fe, where he began struggling to make a toehold for himself in the City Different’s competitive arts milieu. Like many artists who came before (and after) him, Victory found himself holding down a number of jobs in order to pay his rent and provide himself with precious hours in which to paint. Though he continually exhibited his work at a number of galleries as well as in non-profit shows organized by local art organizations, sales were infrequent, and the artist began drinking heavily and second-guessing himself.

In a pattern known all too well by many artists, Victory needed to “hit bottom” before he could begin the difficult process of finding his inner strength and rebuilding himself. Committing his alcohol-free self to the four walls of a tiny studio in a Santa Fe barrio, he started painting with fiery passion. Soon his paintings began finding buyers, and within a year Victory had a sold-out exhibition when he teamed up with Ruidoso, NM, sculptor Dave McGary [swa apr 97].

Since then Victory has worked with intense diligence, and his career has soared. He’s one of those individuals capable of radiating a sense of inner serenity … someone who takes little for granted and knows which side of bed he gets out of each morning. “As human beings we need focal points for our feelings, for our spirituality,” he says. “In my art I find vehicles that allow me to focus my attention on getting in touch with my emotions.

The Rain Maiden, oil & sand, 72 x 48. painting, southwest art.
The Rain Maiden, oil & sand, 72 x 48.

“That’s what I try to do when I paint a kachina image. It’s not a kachina standing by itself as a beautiful object but rather a gateway that opens to a spiritual feeling. As a symbol reduced to its barest parts, the kachina’s colors, shapes and lines reach into the psyche, the deepest self that’s where you find the most profound truths.”

Today, Victory’s studio environment is a large, sun-filled space just a stone’s throw from the old adobe that provided a refuge for his spiritual and creative rebirth. He is meticulous in his work habits and surroundings. The studio is organized and lacks the clutter with which many artists surround themselves. Confident in his inner peace, Victory is more experimental than ever, creating larger, increasingly complex canvases that incorporate materials such as beadwork and earthy textures. The startling contrast of sand or gold leaf against smooth, polished paint surfaces presents a dramatic three-dimensional effect that mysteriously advances and recedes before your eyes—an effect seen in Songs of the People, with its figures looming out of clouds captured beneath a classical arch.

While he has begun to create limited-edition prints of specially painted works as well as take on an occasional commission—a process he finds challenging rather than necessary—Victory still marvels at the four weeks it takes him to finish one painting. “Maybe that amount of time reflects my belief that it’s important to put in the effort if you want to get anything of value back in your life. But it’s not that I mind, not after having been broken to the point of turning around and asking for God’s help. It’s just that I wonder about these intangibles that have helped to make me an artist.”

Spirit of the Triune, oil & sand, 60 x 32. southwest art.
Spirit of the Triune, oil & sand, 60 x 32.

Victory responds to his own question. “Answers, no matter what the questions, are best found in exploring the ‘now.’ For me, the now is filled with something new, something that comes from within and reaches toward happiness. It’s worth any amount of pain to get there.”

Photos courtesy the artist, Contemporary Southwest Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; Meyer Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Evergreen Art Company, Evergreen, CO; and Primavera Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA.

Featured in August 1997


The Scarlet Heaven, oil, 48 x 72. painting southwest art.
The Scarlet Heaven, oil, 48 x 72.



Poteet Victory
Poteet Victory