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  • Love and Guts
  • Duane Niatum (bio)
T. C. Cannon: At the Edge of America
Karen Kramer
University of Washington Press
www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/KRATCC.html
246 pages; Cloth, $55.00

T. C. Cannon has been called one of the most influential and inventive American Indian artists of the twentieth century. This retrospective catalogue shows masterpiece after masterpiece of brightly colored acrylic and oil paintings with strong line and composition influenced by pop art, which appeared even early in his career. This Kiowa-Caddo artist learned and developed his art and craft from the beginning and swiftly went on to the point where people around the world began to take notice. As he said,

every piece of real art,made for the sake of making real art,is a declaration of love and guts.

The proof of this claim is found in almost everything he created. He has inspired a generation of younger American Indian and non-Indian artists. His outstanding legacy will continue to grow and inspire future generations.

T. C. Cannon had an extraordinary curiosity and sensitivity. His work shows how an impressive background of knowledge informed his images. He had a broad spectrum of intellectual and aesthetic interests, and as a result, he was able to develop a unique form of expression that merged United States experience with European and Japanese styles. Cannon was a bold colorist and his work makes political statements through portraits and American Indian figures. Toward the end of his life he also created a series of woodblock prints with two artists in Japan, master woodcutter Kentaro Maeda and master printer Matashiro Uchikawa, both recognized as national treasures. A remark he made in Vietnam is also symbolic of his eventual place as a supreme artist from the states, equal in talent to any artist working at the time. Cannon wrote in a letter from Vietnam, "How thoughtful of God to provide a life-stream such as art."

As a boy, Cannon was always drawing, and after high school he attended the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe. Indian students from over fifty tribes came here to study art and, incidentally, to develop quite a political and cultural force. The school offered a solid education in art history and practice.

Cannon joined the Army, and while a soldier in Vietnam, he became convinced that the US had no business in Vietnam. He also admired the North Vietnamese. It is not surprising that the young Cannon chose to enlist in the Army. Historically, the Kiowa were one of the fiercest warrior societies from Indian country, and they dominated much of the southern plains for many generations. What he witnessed in Vietnam caused him to be emotionally conflicted by his and the US's actions and attitudes about Vietnam and its people. For years it caused him pain. He was released from the Army with an honorable discharge in 1969. Cannon returned time and again in his art to face the struggle over the paradoxes and fragility of life and cultural violence, the most current and historical. We see from his images that the Vietnam War inspired several works in his career.

After leaving the Army in 1969, Cannon continued his art education in Santa Fe and at the University of Central Oklahoma. When he graduated in 1974, he moved back to Santa Fe, the dynamic center of American Indian Art. It was in Santa Fe where Cannon spent the few remaining years of his life, and he was very productive in that atmosphere.

In the studio, his figurative work blossomed. In "Two Guns Arikara," (1974-77), we see how much his Vietnam experiences haunted him soon after coming home. Today we recognize this as post-traumatic stress disorder. Mushroom clouds, symbolic of mass destruction, appear often in his work after his war experience. The clouds also

symbolize the futility of war, its cruel and horrific stupidity. Book after book points out our constant warmongering from colonial times, and that never seems to end. Vietnam was only one example, and there are countless others we could name.

Cannon had a major breakthrough in his art in 1972 when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
pp. 18-31
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-30
Open Access
No
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