Friday, December 4, 2020

"A Man's Man"


9 x 12"
oil on panel

Our National Portrait Gallery in DC has a moving exhibition titled The Struggle For Justice, which is where I saw Andy Warhol's Portrait of Russell Means.  It blew me away.  Perhaps it's the largeness, or the bold colors.  I'm not a huge Warhol fan with an exception of his portraits.  I always question why he chose this person, like Mao Tse Tung for example.  

This is what I've learned since - the clue is this powerful portrait is included in an exhibit showcasing the men and women in the 19th century to present who struggled to achieve civil rights for the disenfranchised and minority groups.  Russell Charles Means was an Oglala Lakota activist for the civil rights of Native Americans.  He was a libertarian activist, an actor and writer and a musician.  He joined the American Indian Movement in 1968, becoming their prominent leader.

And here's more.  Means participated in the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. He protested in Boston, seizing the Mayflower II replica, bringing attention to the mistreatment of Native Americans by the Puritans and the United States.  In '71 he joined the protest at Mount Rushmore, which is within the Black Hills and sacred to the Lakota tribe. He took part in the occupations at Wounded Knee, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in DC.  In the 80's he resigned from the AIM and ran for the presidency of his native Oglala Sioux tribe and lost. 

Means appeared in numerous films - The Last of the Mohicans being the most notable.  He actually made a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing Wandering Bear, a skilled landscaper with a flair for herbal medicine.  He was married five times, had seven biological children and three adopted children and twenty-two grandchildren.  He died in 2012 from cancer.
Warhol did a Cowboys and Indians series in the time closest to his death in 1987.  He was fascinated with the movies and Westerns particularly.  The series included famed enemies and heroes of the genre - a commentary on the media pushing the iconography of what he considered exploitation, war, power and ownership - kinda thumbing his nose at what constitutes Western art.
I finished this painting yesterday and by this morning, it had sold.  But you can view a larger image here.

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