Many plants look very similar, but there are some that are so different and vibrantly colored that I can’t help but to identify with them. As a Native American woman in a predominately white society I am constantly aware that I do not physically look like the majority of the population. My work resembles that of people and plants, but then I further change them into one type of image through stylistically created lines, shapes, and color. My abstracted expressions of my cultural identity are created in reflection of the color differences I encounter on a daily basis. My work asks the viewer to have an open mind to a belief that is not common in our everyday culture. Without plants and flora, my Native historic culture would cease to exist. Therefore, my work shows nature directly through floral imagery and its influence on the women and their tribal regalia (clothing).
The beauty that the physical differences create is one of the main concepts that I explore through my current work. Flora interchangeably becomes a metaphor that I use with Native women to represent my cultural identity. My paintings and relief prints do not conform to classical realism, but push the boundaries of their colors and shapes through painted abstraction. I’m not trying to exactly copy or replicate nature, but create a physical world through paint that shows the spiritual world of plants and people being one and the same.
I break down the stereotypes of both floral painting and Native American art. I form flowers and figures in a unique way that is in contrast of how many artists rely on realistic representations. Formally, I am very interested in making compositions out of the colors, the positive or negative shapes of the plants and figures. I emphasize nature’s influence by showing the floral patterns on the clothing. Through this stylistic approach, my work honors my culture that is founded in nature based customs and traditions.
I choose to use certain formal styles in my work for very specific, symbolic purposes. For example, noticeable outlining is present in much of Native American art. The use of color blocking and heavy outlining in my body of work accentuates the various colors and shapes that are found in the subjects. Outlining gives the pieces a topographical map-like feeling. I use this in one way to express issues of Natives being relocated. Another would be how certain flowers in my work act as symbols for how I feel about my people being transplanted like that of Indian removal. As I create the lines, I follow around shapes and learn their paths, just as I’m learning more about my culture. Essentially my works are the maps to the history and preservation of my heritage that I am finding for myself.
Colors are not limited to any certain color palette, just as plants and people come in all colors. This is important because color is the primary difference that separates me from others in our American culture. Other symbolism includes calligraphic line work that represents my Native heritage through blood line. Many of the outlines are created by the paint itself to emphasize the naturally occurring organic shape surfaces.
My photography shows a more literal view of the relationship of flora and the Native American woman. The technical use of a photograph creates images that are flattened out as opposed to what they would be in real life. The women and the plants are literally merging onto one plane of existence in my photographs. The Native women I photograph proudly wear the clothing styles, colors, and floral patterning of our ancestors. Their clothing is vividly colored just like the actual flowers they stand among. In my mind they are one and the same, and in my photography they inhabit the same plane of existence. As a Native American, I believe that people and plants are both of the Earth and are therefore, spiritually inseparable. The technical use of a photograph creates images that are flattened out as opposed to what they would be in real life. The women and the plants are literally merging onto one plane of existence in my photographs.
I am strongly influenced by the abstracted Native American paintings by Oscar Howe. His bold colors and contemporary way of creating Native artwork encourages me to pursue my own style of abstract Native art. I am also influenced by Emmi Whithorse’s philosophy of using nature as beauty that was drawn from Native American tradition. Howe and Whitehorse help to create a foundation for my art in our culture that strongly resists the modernization of Native American art. Imogen Cunningham’s photography work exemplifies the close up views of plants, their positives, negatives, and contours that I also seek to explore in my own artwork. The lines of the plants are one of the focuses in both our work. The idea of truly looking at plants and creating paintings that stand out is an idea that represents how I feel about my cultural identity and is strongly influenced by Georgia O’Keefe. She and I both create floral paintings that are definitely set apart from a traditional flora study. Lastly, I am influenced by Dana Tiger. Her subjects are typically female and Native American. Even though she is a more traditional Native American painter than I am, her beliefs about Native women are not that different than mine. We both paint our cultures to help keep them alive.
Biography and Vita
Studio artist, Kristin Gentry, pursues her Bachelor of Fine Art’s degree by emphasizing in watercolor and relief printmaking as a senior at Oklahoma State University. Gentry anticipates her graduation for May of 2009. Gentry also explores the use of photography as an art form from experience gained while attending the University of Tulsa.
Gentry was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and received her Associates degree in Art from Tulsa Community College in May of 2005. She graduated from Tulsa Community College as an Honor’s Scholar. She attended the University Tulsa before transferring in the Fall of 2007 to Oklahoma State University.
Gentry currently resides with electrical engineer husband, Ernest, in Stillwater, OK. She teaches art classes part time at the Stillwater MultiArts Center. She is also a freelance portrait photographer in her free time.
Gentry is a very active member in the Native American Student Association (N.A.S.A.) on Oklahoma State’s campus. She served as the official photographer for the Fall 2007 NASA Pow-Wow and will be the official photographer for the Miss American Indian OSU pageant in the Spring of 2008.
Her current watercolors explore her Choctaw Indian heritage as a symbol of herself. By the use of nature to represent her ideas about fractions only being one part of a whole, she hopes that her ideas can be understood not just by Native Americans, but by any viewer.
In addition, Gentry is also working on a photography project in which she is photographing contemporary Native American women who are also current Oklahoma State University students. She is photographing the women in their traditional tribal regalia in juxtaposition with the university as their backgrounds. She is expressing that there are contemporary young natives in the university world who are very much a part of their traditional Native American tribal customs.
After graduation, Gentry plans to attend graduate school to earn a Master’s of Fine Arts degree. Afterward, she will continue as a Native American watercolor artist and open her own business as a photographer. Inside her portrait studio, Gentry will also have a small gallery to display her various studio artworks. Gentry will to continue to pursue her heritage and Native American culture through her watercolors and photography.