Native Underground 2008 unearthed at least one stellar talent that deserves a little ink. Rory Erler Wakemup, who’s now sloughing through his eighth year at IAIA, (he says he’s having trouble passing his writing classes(!) is an artist who creates elegant constructions of incredible depth and texture, using such materials as recycled iron, molded epoxy, monoprints and backlit displays, all gloriously welded together into pieces that mimic both paintings and sculpture but are actually neither – or perhaps are both and can fit only into the category of mixed media.
Recently, Wakemup had a show at the Primitive Edge Gallery at the Institute for American Indian Arts. Consisting of a half a dozen pieces of intense aesthetic and narrative qualities, the show was conceived in the wake of a 2006 motorcycle accident and is appropriately titled, “Chaos.” Each piece is a gorgeous construction of depth and texture, whereby materials such as Plexiglas, urethane, epoxy and acrylics are painstakingly layered on top of one another to capture the artist’s vision of a number of intense experiences, from the birth of his new baby in “My Baby Girl,” to the dizzying experience of “Sacrifice” that happens in the course of the Sundance rituals of his tribe.
Wakemup’s works all have narrative back stories that are as fascinating as the artist – who talks almost non-stop about the intricate symbolism of each color and nuance in any given piece – but visually and aesthetically, these pieces speak for themselves, each one offering forth broad displays of the artist’s obvious talent at manipulating diverse materials.
“My Baby Girl” is perhaps the most visually arresting piece in the show, consisting of a rusted bed springs suspended from the ceiling and backlit by black lights with a Plexiglas womb that holds a fetus constructed from motorcycle parts (from his crashed bike) and a rat skull for a head. Behind the bed spring lies a web of ropes that signify the web of life and the rituals of life that one must go through in order to reach the fulfillment of dreams.
But it was the smaller and quieter piece “Sacrifice” that stole the show for me. The piece features rich reds and orange colors captured between two layers of Plexiglas and signifies the Sundance rituals of both the Anishnabe and Lakota tribes whereby the skin of tribal members are pierced and then they hang backwards by their own weight. It is a ritual that Wakemup has himself experienced four times.
“The ritual is part of a living tradition of our people and has different uses for different groups of people,” said Wakemup. “Warriors, medicine people, women, men – all of them have their reasons for performing the ritual and engaging in the practice.”
In order to achieve his record of the experience, Wakemup brewed a chemical soup that included epoxy, urethane and acrylics as the base for a monoprint that is loaded with texture and colors that range from blood red to burnt orange, encased within Plexiglas and welded to an iron frame.
Work like this is exciting and deserves to be seen and appraised by the community at large. Though he missed the deadline for this year’s Heard Show, Wakemup is planning to apply to India Market for the first time this year. Here’s hoping you see him next August manning a booth.
(Side note: Does anything else think it’s a little weird that that Native American art school’s art gallery is called primitive edge? I’d love to hear comments on that one…)