SANTA FE, N.M. — Born and reared on the verdant Seneca Nation, Luanne Redeye slips tribal symbols behind portraits of those she left behind.
Furrows etch her grandmother’s face atop traces of spirals and tendrils veiled in whitewash.
Her uncle stares at a vacant TV screen from his bed, transfixed and alone. Another painting shows a cousin relaxing with a beer in the family garage beneath the chalk mark taggings of the artist and her sisters.
Redeye is accustomed to the rich landscapes of green hills and trees in the tiny town of Salamanca in the Allegany, N.Y., portion of her homeland.
She came to Albuquerque to earn her master’s in fine arts degree at the University of New Mexico.
The memories and faces spill out on both canvas and prints; you’ll find no mountains or pueblos in her work.
Redeye is a 2014 Residency Fellowship recipient from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts.
From Aug. 22-24, she’ll be showing her paintings and prints in the center of the Plaza at the 93rd Annual Santa Fe Indian Market.
Organizers say the festival brings more than 175,000 collectors and visitors to Santa Fe every August to see and buy everything from pottery to jewelry, paintings, textiles, sculpture and more. More than 1,000 artists snake around the Plaza and its side streets selling their work.
Redeye defines her art as an intersection of autobiography and community, often expressed through portraiture.
It all started with “Beavis and Butt-Head.”
“I wasn’t allowed to watch TV,” she said, her face framed by a froth of black curls. “But I caught a glimpse of ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ and I drew cartoons and gave them to my friends. At that age, I was really good at seeing something and remembering it later.”
Her drawings won her both praise and awards in high school. But she never seriously considered pursuing art as a career until she attended college at the University of New York/Oswego.
“I took two-dimensional art and drawing and I loved it,” she said. “I could do it well and I’m not a big talker, so I could express myself more easily through images.”
Three rescue cats wander around her apartment, its walls covered in her own prints and paintings.
Her tiny studio consists of a couple of card tables and shelves stuffed with art books, mugs and jars sprouting brushes and plastic storage bins of paint. A carved wooden feather magnet from a powwow reads “Seneca.”
Her own version of Vermeer’s classic “Girl with a Pearl Earring” leans against one wall.
She teaches art part-time at Central New Mexico Community College; the copy is for a class on the masters.
“I took an oil painting class,” she said. “I just loved the material. I actually liked the smell. My uncle is an oil painter, but he wouldn’t let me touch the paint. And with portraiture, it looks more like skin; it’s translucent.”
When she visits home, she takes photographs to use as portrait templates. Her family and friends are so accustomed to seeing her with a camera that they ignore it.
She applied for the SWAIA fellowship a year ago and learned she had won in March. The award comes with a $2,000 stipend and studio space at the Santa Fe Art Institute.
She’ll be staying in a dorm there until Sept. 30. She hopes to have eight new portraits and several print editions for sale in time for Indian Market.
Despite the stylized but nearly photographic faces in her paintings, she doesn’t consider herself a photo-realist. She usually slightly alters the images in her photographs, rendering them into nonliteral translations.
The painting of her Uncle Steve sitting near the door of his house is a favorite.
“He’s very charismatic and I love that,” she said.
With its clean lines and sparse detail, the portrait of him watching TV with his back to the viewer could almost be called Hopper-esque. She tries to eliminate all references to location.
“I like to keep it ambiguous so people can enter the scene,” she said. “It can be anyone they know.”
Redeye could hold a conversation in her Native language when she graduated from high school, but the words are fading.
“I’m starting to feel more disconnected from back home,” she said. “I’m forgetting some words and traditions. I enjoy going to the feasts here, but it’s not what I’m used to.”
Her grandmother died recently, ceding the deed to the family home to Redeye. She wants to build her own home on the property someday.