Native with Blue Blanket

Fritz Scholder (1937-2005), Native with Blue Blanket, Acrylic on canvas, Loan courtesy of the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation

Born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Scholder is one-quarter, enrolled member of the California Missions, Luiseño tribe. In 1957, he moved with his family moved to Sacramento, California, where he studied with contemporary vanguard artist Wayne Thiebaud.  

In 1964, Scholder took a job at the newly opened Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe as a resident painting instructor. While in Santa Fe, Scholder began taking on the subject of Native figures, motivated, in part, by his students. Fritz Scholder’s body of work confronted the stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans in the mid-twentieth century and often dealt with controversial subjects like alcoholism, cultural clashes, and joblessness. His bold swathes of color and expressionistic style helped to pull the direction of Native American painting from the traditional ledger and figural art into the larger sphere of contemporary art.

This work likely stems from his “Indian series,” made up of vibrant portraits of Native people in contemporary settings, which he painted from the late 60s to 1980. Many of these works were inspired by historic photographs taken of Native people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rather than form, color was of primary importance to Scholder. In this work, Scholder uses two complementary colors, orange and blue, to create maximum contrast in his painting. And, instead of warm flesh tones, he chose a bright, radiating pink for the figure’s face and hand—underscoring the contemporary nature of the work and creating an eerie, neon presence on the canvas.