Q&A: Bunky Echo-Hawk on sharing art and ideas with the people

Indian artist Bunky Echo-Hawk is an old soul in a cutting-edge suit -- his bright paintings, slabbed with blocks of blinding color, mix traditional and pop imagery and ideas, resulting in a body of work that's funny, sad, stridently satirical and very smart. He's therefore an excellent choice as a lecturer for the University of Colorado's Center for the American West's Modern Indian Identity series, because he's taken a broad paintbrush to the subject, bringing it to life in ways nobody else can.

And when Echo-Hawk appears in the Glenn Miller Ballroom in Boulder Thursday night at 6:30 p.m., he won't just be talking. He'll be wielding said paintbrush, building a painting from scratch -- as well as a participatory conversation with the audience.

The idea for his live painting programs is rooted in a native tradition: Braves spent their winters reliving conquests while an artist recorded everything on a hide for the tribal annals. He's changed the gist a bit -- well, a lot -- and substituted modern issues for old hunting reveries, but you get the point.

We had a chance to chat with Echo-Hawk while he was still in Oklahoma Indian country about his community-building art-oeuvre; the Q & A follows. But first, this:

And now, this:

Westword: How did you come up with the idea for these live-painting programs?

Bunky Echo-Hawk: It's an extension of an old tradition. I'd already been doing art in front of people, and I decided to try to bring an audience-participation element into it to update that age-old tradition. I usually begin with a talk and an overview of my art where I engage in dialogue with the audience. We talk about my community and issues that might be facing that community; I also have the audience chime in and create the concept of the painting for me. And I paint throughout that dialogue.

Can you describe what happens? And what kinds of works have come out of the discussions?

It depends on where the conversations go. There have been a wide variety of issues covered. Some of the images I've painted live include one of Obama wearing a feathered headdress, from the Democratic National Convention, and another one of a priest wearing a McDonald's logo and an Uncle Sam hat.

Bunkyk Echo-Hawk

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