Nocona Burgess Artist Interview: The Legendary Plains

We were honored to feature newly represented artist Nocona Burgess for January's Gallery Stroll! Burgess is from Lawton, Oklahoma, and is the great-great-grandson of Chief Quanah Parker of the Comanche Nation. We had the opportunity to ask Burgess a few questions relating to his latest body of work The Legendary Plains...

They say, "Our past is what makes us who we are." You have traveled around the country throughout your youth and were exposed to a lot of different people and cultures. The Legendary Plains is a culmination of those experiences. Tell us more about this body of work and how it relates to your past.

The time line of The Legendary Plains is from the 1890's to 2016. I wanted to touch a bit on the history and diversity of the region, including some imagery from the past as well as contemporary images. I've lived and traveled throughout the Plains region; I've lived from Poplar, Montana, to Paris, Texas, traveled from Saskatchewan to Chihuahua and Coahuila. I mostly stuck with the imagery that was identifiable as "plains." In reality there is so much diversity in culture than I can show in just 15 paintings.

Studying at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), you learned more about how traditional forms have evolved into more contemporary styles. Tell us more about your process and how it has evolved.

At the IAIA I found what was possible for contemporary Native artist and what it would take to begin a career. Seeing the artists that came through the school was sort of a stepping off point. I've seen the traditional form evolving to contemporary form before my time at IAIA. I grew up around art and my dad was going to college to studying the arts when I was young. My process really began at the University of New Mexico (UNM), under Nick Abdalla. I had always leaned toward contemporary paintings, probably from my dad, but as far as working on a true technique, I found that in an advanced painting class at UNM. During that time I was forced to develop my own process and vision. That's when I started painting on black primed canvas and painting almost in reverse. I call it painting outward.

You have an incredible approach to promoting the history of the Comanche Nation and various other tribes and their stories. How does your heritage influence your work?

I think being from a significant historical family and tribe has contributed to that, it really made me aware of history in general, as well as, my own tribe and family. I've always been an avid reader and from an early age just fell in love with history. I have the complete collection of the TimeLife old-west books. My granddad had given me a couple when I was young and it all went from there. Along the way my art and my love for history collided.