Fritz Scholder

I don’t like to talk about the work itself. I talk around it. The work is visual; people can approach it on whatever level they choose, and its meaning depends on their frame of reference. That’s what they are going to get out of it.

-Fritz Scholder

Fritz Scholder is known for his untraditional depiction of American Indians and his rejection of the sentimental stereotype of the “noble savage.” Instead, he shows Indians as individuals and uses primitive and popular sources to comment on contemporary society and its treatment of natives. Scholder paints simplified forms, uses symbolism to represent ideas, and uses color to show an inner reality of feelings, ideas, and symbols. He has been said to combine elements of Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and Pop Art, although he claims his work is really a “celebration of color.”

Scholder’s familiarity with pueblos are evident in Kiva Rest. Centrally located in a pueblo village, the kiva structure is a site where men would perform their daily activities as well as their secretive religious ceremonies with sacred dancing and dramatic reenactments of Pueblo origins. Scholder employs vivid colors and lively gestures to express the celebratory atmosphere in a kiva. He offers a glimpse into that mysterious world through an unidentifiable, seated figure engulfed in the glow of firelight. Even the cool shadows come alive with a flickering of intense colors. The colors in Kiva Rest also imply the personal relationship Scholder has with the southwest landscape and culture from the warm yellows and pinks to the turquoise blues.

This piece was purchased by Plains Art Museum in 1979 and was funded by the Clara Cupler Kornberg Bequest with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Artist Bio

For me, the real job of painting is the actual act. It’s a very sensuous activity. You have a flexible brush and buttery paint and color, and the canvas moves when you touch it.

-Fritz Scholder

Fritz Scholder, one of the most successful artists to come out of the Midwest, is considered to be one of the leading artists in what he calls “real Indian” art.

Scholder was born in Breckenridge, Minnesota and spent much of his childhood in Wahpeton, North Dakota. In 1957, after spending his first year of college at Wisconsin State University in Superior, he moved to California with his family and continued his formal art training. Acclaimed artist Wayne Thiebaud was one of his teachers in Sacramento and assisted in arranging the young artist’s first show in 1958. Scholder received his BFA from California State and MFA from the University of Arizona.

Although Scholder is of Lusieño and German descent, he was not raised in a Native American environment. For several years he vowed never to depict a Native American in his work. He opposed the stylized, clichéd imagery often employed to portray Native Americans. However, from 1964 to 1969, when Scholder taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, he became interested in his ancestry. He studied the surrounding culture by attending dances, collecting artifacts, and visiting Pueblos. Scholder’s first portrait of a Native American in 1967 was actually an attempt to better understand the problems a student was having with painting the subject. It was the beginning of a series on the Native American that lasted over thirteen years. As the first artist to paint Native Americans with beer cans and the American flag, Scholder stirred up controversy. By depicting imagery of what he calls the “real Indian”, he emerged as a leader among Native American artists. In his studios in Santa Fe and New York, Scholder continues to make art that offers new visual experiences in painting, sculpture, and prints.

Scholder has received several fellowships and awards throughout his career from the Whitney Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has been acknowledged by five honorary degrees, including one from Concordia College and has been highlighted in several magazines, books, videos, and art journals.

Scholder’s work has been exhibited around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C., Plains Art Museum in Fargo, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and countless others throughout the southwest and the rest of the country.

Fritz Scholder, Kiva Rest, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30″