Brent Greenwood | The Underpainting of History

By Devon Jackson

Brent Greenwood, Mad Hops, acrylic, 18 x 20

Brent Greenwood, Mad Hops, acrylic, 18 x 20

Early on during his years at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM, Brent Greenwood had a choice to make: keep painting the way he always had, or change. He had been painting in a style he learned in art classes at Oklahoma City University. It was a style that critics and instructors had often praised him for, but it was also a style used by so many others in his native state of Oklahoma. “I had been very influenced by the Kiowa or Oklahoma style of art,” says Greenwood. It is also known as the Bacone style, after Bacone College in Muskogee, OK, where in 1935, Acee Blue Eagle, the school’s first art department director, popularized paintings of Native peoples that emphasized flat colors, a two-dimensional perspective, and distinct lines throughout the composition.

“I was drawing and painting in that flat, two-dimensional style,” says the 36-year-old Greenwood. “I am proud of who I am and where I’m from. It was an effort to change, but Jean LaMarr and the other instructors at IAIA did a good job of breaking me of my Oklahoma style. They helped me to embrace change.

“I’ve since broadened my scope as far as application of paint and composition,” adds Greenwood. “It’s not just flat anymore. Though some of that Oklahoma style still comes through at times.”

Greenwood, who hails from the Ponca and Chickasaw tribes, was born and raised in the Oklahoma City area. He started doodling as soon as he could pick up a pencil. His mother, recognizing her son’s enthusiasm for art, bought him books on how to draw animals and people.
After high school, he enrolled at Oklahoma City University. “They helped me in the basic academics of art, but as far as seeking a personal vision as an artist, I didn’t feel like I could get that there. There was always something missing at OCU,” says Greenwood, who left when his scholarship money ran out. He did, however, meet his future wife at OCU—Kennetha Greenwood, a bead worker of the Otoe-Missouria tribes.

In 1992 he enrolled in IAIA. “It wasn’t really culture shock because I was around my peers, all these indigenous people, but it was intense,” recalls Greenwood. “It helped open up my eyes to [IAIA founder] Lloyd Kiva New’s whole idea: to bring out the Indian in us and in our art. We’re all Indian and creative and trying to learn and do our own thing.”

As intent as Greenwood first was on sticking with the Oklahoma style he’d grown up on, he soon realized he could do what he’d always done but expand upon it and make it deeper, more interesting; he could evolve a style that would be his and his alone…

Featured August 2007


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