Barton Community College will host an opening reception for its new exhibit “Fire,” by Cheyenne artist Bently Spang, from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 in the Shafer Art Gallery. The exhibit will run through Nov. 6.
For this exhibit, Spang tells the story of the 2012 Ash Creek Fire that blackened 250,000 acres and destroyed his family’s ranch located on their ancestral homeland on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. The story is uniquely told from the perspective of the trees. Spang makes the voices of the trees concrete through video documentation, performance art and a series of expressive drawings made by rubbing drawing paper across the ravaged boughs of the trees themselves.
“For these drawings, I used the burned trees for my charcoal,” Spang said of the installation. “I scratched their branches on the paper facing away from me. Since I could not see exactly what the result was going to be, there was a chaotic thing embedded in them because of what the trees went through.”
Spang said he experienced a cathartic moment and “a chance to grieve with the tress.” The results are the haunting abstract images of the exhibit.
Spang is a well-known contemporary native artist and educator who has exhibited widely in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, South America and Europe. Most recently, he was chosen to be one of a handful of living artists to represent all contemporary native artists in the definitive exhibit, “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” curated by the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The exhibit traveled worldwide and is now located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Spang said the drawings reveal something of the character of each tree species and the drawings embody the qualities that attracted him to art making as a young adult.
“I was always drawn to art because it showcases a release, a healing and a moment of clarity that is brief but pure,” he said.
Shafer Gallery Director Dave Barnes said the exhibit could stand alone with just the drawings, but said Spang also produced a video to accompany his work.
“The video gives people a sense of place, a sense of time and it gives people a complete experience of the piece and what happened there,” Spang said.
“Bently is a visionary artist,” Barnes said. “His work has always initiated a conversation between the land, the animals and the people that live upon it. He tries to be true to the voice of his native heritage and the natural world. With the issues of climate change and a changing environment looming before us, he believes that this voice is more important than ever.”
The Shafer Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is always free.