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‘Trying to find a balance’

“Water Carrier” by Starr Hardridge, acrylic on canvas, 24×18 inches. (Courtesy of Blue Rain Gallery)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Starr Hardridge paints in an amalgam of European pointillism and the beadwork of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

Color mosaics such as stained glass meld with ancient Muscogee themes in a dazzling array of pattern through a fractal lens.

Hardridge’s latest work “Unbridled” is on view at Santa Fe’s Blue Rain Gallery.

The artist grew up in central Oklahoma surrounded by the artistic traditions of his culture. His formal training includes a fine arts degree in illustration and painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Later studies at France’s Nadaï Verdon Atelier of Decorative Arts emphasized harmony and composition.

Hardridge once painted in a very traditional, muted style until the 2014 death of his father triggered a seismic stylistic change.

“I was going through a transitional period in painting,” he said in a telephone interview from Knoxville, Tennessee. “I was studying the beadwork and trying to put together work representing loss and resistance at the same time, and the narrative of Southeast Native removal from Alabama to Oklahoma.”

Although none of his family members made beadwork, it was a traditional art form for the Muscogee until their forced removal during the 1830s. Hardridge wanted to echo that work in his painting.

He experimented with a stylus, then worked with a needle-like dispenser before landing on a plastic bottle applicator. First, he applies it to an acrylic-based plaster atop a nylon grid to help organize the canvas.

Placing 1/16th of an inch of acrylic paint through a dropper onto a canvas comes fraught with drawbacks. Hardridge can spend up to 200 hours on a single painting.

“This was what I was looking for,” he said, adding, “It’s insane to do this kind of painting because it takes so long.”

It’s hard not to think of the French Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac at the first mention of pointillism. In 1886, the pair developed the technique using small, distinct dots of color in patterns to form an image.

“It’s all subtly influenced me,” Hardridge acknowledged. “I’ve had my stuff compared to Southwest African art and aboriginal art in Australia.

“It’s such a primitive way of putting down information,” he added. “My palette is now straight pigment.”

Today, he relies on a large cache of automatic drawings he produced in 2012 as a starting point. As developed by the Surrealists, in automatic drawing, the hand moves “randomly” across the paper.

His latest work is both angular and geometric.

“Water Carrier” shows a Native woman carrying a pot of water, her background and clothing a crazy quilt of color and shapes.

“The woman is Muscogee-Creek,” Hardridge said. “She’s carrying a pot with the O.G. symbol; it’s associated with Muscogee mythology and symbols of origin.”

With its pair of galloping horses, “Unbridled” reveals a signature theme of duality in the artist’s work.

“In my imagery, you’re always going to see pairs, the concept of duality,” he said. “I’m a Libra and I’m also a twin. There’s this push and pull of a narrative theme of trying to find balance.”

“The Shepherd” also carries a metaphorical theme of being responsible for your people, your children and your property.

“I was looking at the concept of the Diné shepherds,” Hardridge said.

“Disappearing Buffalo” emerges from what resembles a woven diamond pattern. To Hardridge, the buffalo is a symbol of growth.

“They could make their house out of it, they could make their food out of it, they could make their weapons out of it,” he said. “It was definitely holy and sacred.”

Hardridge also cites such mid-century Native painters as Oscar Howe, the Kiowa Six (Spencer Asah, James Auchiah, Jack Hokeah, Stephen Mopope, Monroe Tsatoke and Lois Smoky) and the Santa Fe Indian School as influences.

“If I was too much in love with one artist, I think people would see it,” he said. Hardridge won Best of Painting at the 2012 Santa Fe Indian Market. In 2013, he worked on a restoration project at the U.S. Capitol, replicating work on the inner east and west corridors of the Senate entrance that had faded after 200 years of cigarettes, pipes and cigars.

His paintings can be found in the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas, and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis.

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