Visionary World featuring
Ernest Marceau, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe (Siksikaitsiitapii), uses his art to share the culture and history of his people. As a professional artist specializing in painting and sculpture, he creates art that allows the viewer to investigate the imaginary world of his mind. Born in Browning, Montana, Mr. Marceau was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation. He graduated from Browning High School in 1981, and attended Haskell Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, where he focused his studies on art.
This exhibit presents a small sample of Mr. Marceau’s life work, including elements of both his previous and current artistic expressions. Visionary World is a collection capturing the Blackfeet way of life on the Great Plains, as though it were a spiritual dream. Although mostly self-taught, Mr. Marceau credits his school’s Head Start program with nurturing his artistic spirit at a young age. As he grew older, his art was deeply influenced by the work of other artists, as well as family and friends. He continues to learn from others in the art world, with the goal of increasing his capacity to create the visionary images he presents in his artwork.
Mr. Marceau’s earliest memory of creating art occurred at age three when he produced a stylized drawing of a dog. From there, he began to experiment in other mediums, including sculpture, oil paints, acrylics, watercolors, pen and ink, pastel, etc. He quickly discovered that painting on stretched canvas was his preferred medium, and through adolescence and adulthood he continued to grow his artistic skills. Mr. Marceau credits his family with supporting his art career from an early age, including purchasing art supplies and praising the work of the young artist. His visionary world that blends Blackfeet history and culture with a modernist aesthetic is a unique perspective. In the words of the artist:
“I want to create art that looks into my deepest thoughts. Art which brings out my creativity in an endless form like the universe. It is never ending, and the creativity goes on to eternity, like my visionary world.”
Bear, Chief, Eagle, Visionary Warriors
In this oil painting, the artist’s visionary world is expressed in the form of spirit warriors on horseback. Depictions of a bear, an eagle, the sacred Chief Mountain, and a lightning bolt crashing into the mountain complement the mounted figures. The warriors hold shields and spears, while their faces and bodies are adorned with war paint in the traditional Blackfeet manner. In this world the bear is leading the warriors while the eagle serves as a rear guard. The artist has intentionally omitted a foreground to make the warriors appear as if they were riding in the clouds. This stylistic approach allows the viewer to be immersed in the artist’s vision. Within the vision, the viewer may find the spiritual significance of the animals that accompany the warriors. When Blackfeet warriors go to the top of Chief Mountain for spiritual quests, they receive a vision that comes to them in the form of an animal such as a bear, eagle, or deer. This spiritual significance is why these animals are often depicted on Blackfeet lodges and in other art forms.
Blood Skull Warriors of the Red Earth
This painting explores warriors, buffalo skulls, and the connection of the human body to the earth. Warriors on horseback are depicted in their spirit form and the background is filled with the spirits of a buffalo herd. A single white buffalo is concealed within the herd. Blood flows from the warriors and bison skulls in a representation of the symbiotic relationship between the warriors and Mother Earth. The warriors have a ghostly presence in this composition. The central figure in the painting wears a buffalo horn headdress, a common part of the regalia of many Plains tribes. Two figures flanking the central figure wear straight-up war bonnets, a style unique to the Blackfeet. In Blackfeet tradition, the feathers were worn in the upright position to allow the wearer’s prayers to travel upwards to the creator. This work also includes visual references to the four directions, which are sacred to the Blackfeet people.
Spirit of the Buffalo Hunt
A union of reality and the spirit world comes to life in this painting depicting a buffalo hunt. Rolling hills and ridges, shadows of buttes, and low hanging clouds capture the spirit of the open plains. The light colors of the sky draw the viewer into to the background. Here the artist attempts to make the viewer feel that the hunt is an everyday occurrence, although it now only happens in the spirit world. Incorporating the painted frame was an intentional part of the artist’s process. At one time, Mr. Marceau regularly used this technique to add an element of Native American abstraction to his work. The figures, eagles, and lodge painted on the frame represent symbolic parts of the landscape and the spirit of the hunt.
Brings Down the Sun War Party
Warriors are depicted on horses, riding out into the plains while the sun is going down. The warrior in the front is Brings Down the Sun. Brings Down the Sun was a historical figure known for his special medicine and prayers. In one account, witnesses said that the sun would flicker when he performed his ceremonies. His special capabilities come alive in this war party, which is depicted riding across the plains through the Rocky Mountains. The procession travels past Mount Rising Wolf, bringing down the sun along the way.
The Great Wall of the Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a defining element of the landscape in the Blackfeet homeland. In the composition at right is Divine Mountain, a peak sacred to the Blackfeet. The cottony clouds add depth to the painting, while the mountain rising abruptly from the landscape creates a defined wall. Incredible texture is used by the artist to enhance the dramatic impact of the mountains. This view is inspired by the mountains in Glacier National Park, which forms the western boundary of the Blackfeet Reservation.
Brings Down the Sun’s War Party Ride Out of Camp
This painting depicts a Blackfeet camp at sunset, with the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains in the background. In the foreground, the camp is filled with warriors, lodges, and their families. The war party is exiting the camp while their families look on. The colors used in this piece represent the setting sun and its lighting of the scene. By positioning abstracted silhouettes over a solid background, the artist has created another of his visionary worlds.
Mountain, Chief, Two Eagles, Warriors, Lodge, People
A mounted warrior and his family are portrayed in this work. The elements included in the painting are meant to depict traditional life in Blackfeet Country. Chief Mountain, one of the most sacred locations in Blackfeet culture, is prominently featured in the center of the composition. The eagles, warriors, and the wife and children portray the visionary community of the Blackfeet people. By pairing contemporary neon colors with a traditional subject matter and painterly style, this work possesses a vibrancy, blurring the lines between the visionary world and reality.
Buffalo Skull Warriors of Chief Mountain
Warriors and buffalo skulls become one in this piece. This visionary world depicts traditional Blackfeet warriors in their war party regalia. With the feathers flowing from their spears and shields, the artist hopes to create a sense of movement. The lack of major elements in the background is intentional and is meant to convey a sense that the figures are floating in space. Chief Mountain is the lone background element, and it is from there that the ghostly warriors emerge.
Buffalo Spirit Warriors
In this piece, mounted warriors emerge from buffalo skulls. They hold Winchester rifles in their hands in a reference to one of the most prominent weapons of the nineteenth century. In this piece, the artist combines neon colors with a loose, impressionist style. Mr. Marceau often experiments with different styles and technique in his work, with the goal of leading the viewer to consider new perspectives and ideas.
While this painting may confuse the viewer at first glance, a deeper look reveals its meaning. As an artist, Ernest Marceau is depicting his version of the dream world. Inside the warrior’s face are elements depicting Chief Mountain, warriors in their lodges, and a white buffalo. The visionary concept blends all the elements of the artist’s dreams into a single image. Within a single painting, the artist has included many important elements of Blackfeet spiritual life. The horns of the buffalo headdress are tipped with planets, another reference to the artist’s visionary world. Here the artist invites the viewer to join him in his personal dream world that blends colors, directions, and emotions.
Sun Child of Two Moons
This painting depicts Napi, the prominent figure of the Blackfeet creation story, and focuses on the great flood that covered the Earth. In this piece, Napi sits on a raft surrounded by the animals he has saved in the middle of this great deluge. The sand and mud pouring into the water from Napi’s hand is a depiction of his creation of a new land for the animals. Once the animals were placed safely on the land, Napi then made man and woman, and thus the world as we see it today was created. While there are many different versions of the creation story in Blackfeet culture, all center around a great flood and Napi’s role in the creation of life. Adding to the spiritual significance of this piece is the depiction of the land in the form of Chief Mountain, a sacred site for the Blackfeet people.
Visionary World featuring