restricted access An Interview with Jim Denomie
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| 23 An Interview with Jim Denomie Heid E. Erdrich J im Denomie (Ojibwe) was born in Hayward,Wisconsin, on July 6, 1955, and currentlylivesinFranconia,Minnesota.Primarilyapainter(oil,acrylic,and watercolor), he also creates unique works of art in ink, oil pastel drawings, printmaking, photography, and found object sculpture. In 1995, Denomie received a BFA degree from the University of Minnesota. Since then he has shown extensively in the United States and in Europe in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His work has been placed in the permanent collections of numerous museums as well as in many other public and private collections. Denomie’s work has been included in local and national publications, and he is the recipient of several prestigious grants and awards. In 2005, Denomie completed a task of painting at least one painting a day, for one year. Much of the work was showcased in the exhibition New Skins at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2007, and he was named one of City Pages Artist of the Year for 2007. In 2008, he was awarded a Bush Artist Fellowship, in 2009 an Eiteljorg Native American Fine Art Fellowship, a 2012 McKnight Fellowship and, most recently, awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. A small group of works by Denomie contains references to American Indian tribal gaming industries. Images of slot machines, blackjack tables, horse racing, 24 | Heid E. Erdrich and casino structures are incorporated within the larger visual narratives that distinguish Denomie’s colorful and provocative style of painting. Among these works is Casino Sunrise, the subject of the interview that follows these brief descriptions. Denomie’s painting The Posse, the cover art for this essay collection, focuses on an image of a casino. Although by no means the central subject for Denomie, imagery associated with the rise of gambling in Indian Country does fijigure in key works from both early in his career and more recently.Denomie’s visual vocabulary grows along with his subjects and has come to reveal a penchant for social and political commentary, which arises with his works that reference legal gambling and continues into Casino Sunrise. One of the fijirst of Denomie’s paintings to include references to tribal gaming is Misfortunes, which presents a vivid seascape in surreal colors. Stylized blue female nudes on the shore seemingly jeer at and moon three ships, which represent the vessels associated with the arrival of Christopher Columbus to this hemisphere. A slot machine sits on the beach in the extreme foreground of Misfortunes. The Misfortunes ©Jim Denomie. All rights reserved. An Interview with Jim Denomie | 25 content and the title, suggestive of both fortune and mistake, might suggest an equation between gaming (the slot machine) and colonization (the ships) or at least something less than benign on the horizon. Another painting from early in Denomie’s exhibition career, National Anthem, is a surreal cityscape that contains fijigures including a man dressed in traditional Ojibwe clothes pitching a baseball from atop a “Surplus Cheese” truck to men in suitsandumpiregearatopadarklimousine-likecar.1 Behindthemaseriesof towers, somesuggestiveof Devil’sTowerinWyomingorMonumentValleyinArizona,some more like enormous tree stumps, rise with a slot machine on one and a blackjack table on another. On the center tower is a brightly lit sports stadium. Behind the towers, the familiar buildings of the Minneapolis and St. Paul skyline rise amid other buildings. Some of the buildings are elongated slot machines. The Posse, an early example of Denomie’s landscapes composed of towers, includespurpleandredbuttes,oneof whichisoccupiedbyabrightlylittipi-shaped structure with the word “Casino” across its front. Hands reach from the bottom National Anthem ©Jim Denomie. All rights reserved. 26 | Heid E. Erdrich of the painting, some with open palms, some praying, some seeming to grasp or attempt to climb the butte. Figures ride past, one American Indian appearing on a winged white horse; the other looks like a cowboy on a hobbyhorse. Between the two fijigures is a trail of paper bills. A vehicle that looks like an armored truck with the word “Dinks” on its side is left behind by the fijigures. A complex and multi-imaged scene created in what Denomie has come to call hisnarrativestyle,CasinoSunrisewasfijirstshownatBockleyGalleryinMinneapolis in 2009. In Casino Sunrise we see a landscape populated by American Indians and others,includingformerMinnesotagovernorJesseVentura,whoisdepictedmostly nude except for his G-string, one diving flipper, and a feather boa. Ventura holds a cigar chomped in his jaw while he gestures with a handful of money in one hand andafijishingrodinanother.Venturastandsonalowtreestump...


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