Harry, a poem for you, In a season of contradictions and more,
cheers, merriment, happy holidays, seasons greetings, any
sweet season without reason, everything nice and all that!
Harry, friend, brother, artist, jokester, story and storyteller
younger brother by a couple years, maybe three, maybe more,
and Californian, why not, be anything you want, anything
people can stand, might as well be Californian too! And anyway!
Harry, Coyote artist extraordinaire, who else but! what else but
the power to laugh, that's the true and real power of language
so laugh, that's what Coyote, your brother would say
listen, ssssssh, can you hear him laughing behind the door?
Harry, today's voice in winter, a voice that laughs no matter why
or when or how or how come, even while saying thank you,
this morning when it was freezing, freezing, freezing cold brrrrr
thank you, brrrrrr, teeth shivering almost shattering thank you
Harry, good news, bring us good news, not the war in Iraq, not
the lies, let the Bushies and Cheneys do that, they're experts,
it's Christmas...but whoa there, whoa-ho, why not the lies too,
'tis the season of contradictions, is it not, merriment and joy?
Harry, but why not good news for the sake of good news, war or no war
why not, let's have good cheer, genuine and real, no matter
that the experts in their war rooms spread gloom and doom
and bombs everywhere, let us, anyway, not believe their lies!
Harry, my friend Jean says thank you to me and explains Shelly,
her daughter, says we never say I love you enough, and I agree
so Jean says thank you my friend for showing me the estrellas
and so thank you, Harry, for your Coyote art extraordinaire!
Harry, my dear beloved brother, thank you for your art, your spirit,
your laughter, compassion, sensitivity, and disgruntlement
what a word, a word I never use-and your courage, love,
those things that make us human after all no matter what
Harry, it's winter now, you'd never know, in your VA hospital room,
winter snow, winter wind, cold knives cutting into skin,
I had to scrape ice from my car windows this morning,
shivering brrrrring this morning like I said, where's the sun?
Harry, remember though, it's going to be spring short months away
no kidding, spring will be spring, sunny days, sunny days,
no such thing as winter forever, no more war doom and gloom,
o my, sunny days, sunny nights-sunny nights? Just kidding.
Harry, what a time it will be when spring comes, like the time,
we were in Venice though this time we will not be lost!
remember I got to the airport at midnight, then the cab
to the ferry or whatever they're called in Italian-gondolas?
Harry, next time it will be in Venice in the spring, not June
like last time, and not lost, and not like we were strangers
and foreigners like sometimes in California and New Mexico:
foreigners, strangers, aliens, feeling illegal in our own land!
Harry, I understand, Coyote brother, the how and why and why not
Coyote needs to laugh--so we can love those who make us feel
contradictions we need to see, that we need to realize, that we
need to know what our lives have become! To see, to know.
Harry, thank you for making me and others feel welcome to see
the contradictions you and Coyote see and show us, especially now
'tis the season to see the contradictions as we say Happy Holidays,
Season's Greetings, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, don't worry,
Harry, Coyote would say, don't sweat the small stuff human beings
are made of. Just live, just live, Harry, be artist, be Coyote, and live!
Press Release January 6, 2007 from The Fonseca Studio, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acclaimed contemporary artist and Native American activist Harry Fonseca (Nisenan/Maidu/ Hawaiian/Portuguese) died early on the morning of Thursday, December 28, 2006, at the age of 60. Family and friends had surrounded Fonseca since he was hospitalized in the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in early November.
Fonseca is well known for his creation of the always-smiling, supremely self-confident “Coyote” and “Rose” over 30 years ago. Both have played a central role in Fonseca’s work and have become popular icons in the process. Fonseca’s Coyote and Rose can be found in restaurants, museums, opera houses and chamber music festivals the world over.
Throughout his life-long career as an artist, Harry Fonseca’s work went through a number of transformations but his open attitude towards new influences and sources of inspiration was constant. Fonseca was born in 1946 in Sacramento, California, and his earliest drawings, prints and paintings drew from his Maidu heritage. He was influenced by basketry designs, dance regalia, and by his participation as a traditional dancer.
The creation story of his people, as recounted by his uncle, Henry Azbill, became the source of a major 1977 work entitled “Creation Story.” This myth continued to inspire Fonseca, and he addressed it again in 1991 and 2000. Santa Fe residents George and Peggy Wessler, long time collectors of Fonseca’s work, purchased “Creation Story 2000” (6’ 1” x 17’ 3”) in 2006 and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The painting is prominently installed on the third floor of the museum at the entrance to the museum’s permanent exhibition.
Transformation is evident in Fonseca’s paintings of Coyote and Rose, which Fonseca began in 1976 and who repeatedly jumped from his brush, including the most recent 2006 “Rose and Coyote Carmen”. The subject of these works is Coyote, both the male and female trickster. Fonseca resituated the cultural hero into contemporary settings, such as San Francisco's Mission District, the Santa Fe Opera and various tribal casinos. Through Fonseca, Coyote became a modern-day, sneaker-wearing Rousseau, holding his palette on a Parisian quay (“Rousseau Revisited,” 1986), or headdress-clad and sneakered artist (“Coyote in Front of Studio,” 1983). The Coyote character was a filter through which Fonseca examined his vision of the artist, the Indian and society.
Fonseca's interest in rock art led him to develop the “Stone Poems,” an extensive series of works exploring the imagery of petroglyphs, not only from California but also throughout the West and Southwest. The “Stone Poems” are not meant to be so much an interpretive recording of rock images but a way of self-exploration. The canvases, some as large as 6' by 12', suggest the size and scope of petroglyphic panels in situ.
Fonseca's work took a more political turn with the 1992 “Discovery of Gold and Souls in California” series. Each of these small mixed-media pieces, measuring about 15" x 11", offers subtle variations on the image of a black cross surrounded by gold leaf and partially covered with red oxide, many showing the artist’s prominent handprint. Fonseca has stated that this series "is a direct reference to the physical, emotional and spiritual genocide of the native people of California. With the rise of the mission system, and much later the discovery of gold in California, the native world was fractured, and with it, a way of life and order devastated.”
Harry Fonseca also created series that explored myth and the contemplation of spirituality. Icarus and Saint Francis of Assisi were the subject of these works. Fonseca also painted a series of ghostly human like figures that are haunting and difficult to interpret. He also completed a small series of skeletal figures that can be seen as a commentary on the AIDS crisis and human mortality.
Harry Fonseca came to be known late in his career for beautiful and meditative abstract work. Like the abstracted American landscapes revealed in central California basketry, Navajo blankets and minimalist painting, Fonseca’s abstractions were often distilled into large canvases of rhythmic, vibrating horizontal bars of color and tonal contrast. The series began in 1989 with “Navajo Blankets” and continued until his last paintings of the Grand Canyon in 2006. He also created two other abstract series that were more spontaneous and flowing through his use of dripping paint; these he titled “Seasons.” He created his last “Seasons” series in the spring of 2006.
Harry Fonseca traveled, painted and lectured extensively. He accepted invitations by museums and arts organizations to speak in Germany, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, New Zealand, Japan and Italy.
Internationally, Harry was a participating artist in the Venice Biennale in Italy in 1999, exhibiting in the Native American pavilion. Organized by the Native American Arts Alliance (also known as NA3), a non-profit collective based in Santa Fe, the exhibit "Ceremonial" included the work of Bob Haozous, Jaune Quick to See Smith, Richard Ray Whitman, Kay Walking Stick, Rick Glazer Danay, Simon Ortiz and Fonseca. This group became Indigenous Arts Action Alliance (IA3) in 2001 and Fonseca served as an advisory board member until his death.
In 2004 Harry was given the Alan Houser Memorial Award by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. The Governor gives the award to an outstanding individual who has demonstrated artistic success and community involvement.
In 2005 Fonseca was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art from Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition to a generous purchase of his most recent abstractions, the award allowed Fonseca to travel again Europe where he studied pictographic, Spanish Baroque, Renaissance, Flemish, French Impressionist and Modern art.
Harry Fonseca is survived by his daughter, Sarah Fonseca and his partner of ten years, Harry Nungesser. He is also survived by his brothers Henry, Daniel, Anthony and Fred, and by his sister, Elsie, and many nieces and nephews. He leaves behind numerous colleagues and fellow artists, a wide circle of loving friends and countless adoring patrons.
For additional information and for publishable digital images of the artist and his works please contact:
The Harry Fonseca Trust
Ms. Mariah Sacoman
Digital images available by request.
Additional biographical and career info can be found on the website for the Fonseca Studio: www.harryfonseca.com
He skateboards. He struts his stuff in a zippered black-leather jacket and high-tops. He feasts on watermelon. He even kicks up his feet in the ballet, "Swan Lake."
The always-smiling, supremely self-confident canine has played a central role off and on in the work of Santa Fe artist Harry Fonseca for 30 years and has become a popular icon in the process.
To celebrate that anniversary, the Emmanuel Gallery is presenting "Fonseca's Coyote: Living With the Trickster," an exhibition of 29 well-chosen drawings and paintings offering an engaging overview of Coyote's evolution and related themes.
It is a good start for Shannon Corrigan, the new director of the little- known gallery, which sits in a former synagogue on the Auraria campus. Beginning with shows devoted to two nationally known, veteran artists, she is trying to breathe new life into the space, with its up-and-down history.
"Fonseca's Coyote" is the third in an unusual confluence of Colorado exhibitions in recent months. The shows have focused on major contemporary American Indian artists, who all happen to be from New Mexico.
Earlier this year, the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art presented works by Jaune Quick-To-See Smith that focused on the horse. And the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is spotlighting Emmi Whitehorse through July 29.
The idea for this 30th-anniversary exhibition emerged in a dinner conversation between Fonseca and Polly.
Nordstrand, assistant curator of American Indian arts at the Denver Art Museum, during a symposium at the institution last winter.
Since the art museum is virtually closed in anticipation of the Oct. 7 opening of its .5 million addition, Nordstrand looked around for another venue and initiated a collaboration with Corrigan, formerly a curatorial assistant at the museum.
Coyote can be found in the folklore of many Indian tribes, but he has an especially strong place in the creation beliefs of the Maidu culture of California. He is seen as a kind of trickster,with connections to truth and deception and joy and sadness.
In the 1970s, the symbolic figure made his first appearances in the art of Fonseca, 60, a Sacramento native of Maidu, Hawaiian and Portuguese heritage. At the start, the artist depicted him more or less conventionally, as in "Coyote No. 46" (1974).
But by 1976, in works such as the pivotal painting, "Coyote Leaves the Res No. 1," he had evolved into the now-familiar character for which Fonseca is best known - a standing, human-like figure who epitomizes cool and loves to have fun.
Emerging around the same time was Coyote's girlfriend, Rose. In the the boldly rendered "Coyote Woman No. 1" (1976), with its bright green background, Fonseca flamboyantly depicts her as plump and uninhibited, with red lipstick and a big yellow boa.
Coyote can be seen as a kind of American Indian everyman as well as Fonseca's alter-ego - a connection made evident in "Self Portrait" (1993), a pen-and-ink drawing in which he depicts himself as Coyote painting a Coyote canvas.
Hidden not so subtly beneath the lightheartedness of these works are examinations of native identity and the challenges many Indians face in trying to fit into mainstream urban life.
A telling example is "Coyote Chief with Cigars" (ca. 1993). Like virtually all Fonseca's works, it evokes a carefree feeling on the surface. But it confronts American Indian stereotypes, as embodied by the once-widespread, cigar-store Indian statues of decades past.
Although the depictions of Coyote have a loose, often cartoonish, pop look, these works should in no way be underestimated. Fonseca is a sophisticated painter with a knack for handling paint, as illustrated by the deft, Pollock-like splotches and swirls he uses to evoke the background surf in "Coyote on Skateboard No. III" (ca. 1995).
He is also an experimenter, applying acrylic to cardboard, for example, giving it a bold, opaque quality. He also draws on past Indian art, such as ledger drawings, as he does in "Coyote Meat 005" (1980). This easily misinterpreted drawing on tablet paper, which comes from a little-displayed series, was inspired by the work of an artist known as Buffalo Meat.
"Fonseca's Coyote" is a worthy tribute to an artistic series that, after three decades, remains vital as ever.
"Fonseca's Coyote: Living With the Trickster"
Through July 15|Paintings and drawings by Harry Fonseca|Emmanuel Gallery, Auraria campus|Free|11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays (303-556-8337 and emmanuelgallery.org)
“Creation Story 2000” placed in National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
George and Peggy Wessler, long time collectors of Fonseca’s work, recently purchased “Creation Story 2000” (6’ 1” x 17’ 3”) and donated the large canvas to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The piece is prominently installed on the third floor of the museum at the entrance to the permanent exhibition entitled “Our Lives.” The location, also adjacent to a stunning architectural overlook, provides the visitor ample and comfortable seating for contemplation.
This work has been accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection.
Monthly Lecture Series
Harry Fonseca: Identity and the Process of Change through Artistic Expression
FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 2006, at noon
Acclaimed contemporary artist Harry Fonseca (Nisenan/Maidu/ Hawaiian/Portuguese) will share his vision and influences to explore the issue of identity through his own artistic interpretation. Fonseca is a recipient of the 2005 Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN.
Discussion to follow the lecture.