“The name impressed me greatly,” Kevin says when I ask him about the painting. “My brother was a game warden. He’s got the Crow Indian rolls from the agency with the old names. All my images have original Crow Indian names. That’s how I picked him out. The whole image came about by finding his name. When I heard it, I knew that this person had to be very significant. I wanted him to look powerful. Not menacing, but powerful, with a presence.” Asked about the red color, Kevin explains that the Crow men would put red clay on the exposed skin of their bodies in the Summer to protect them. “It’s like sunscreen,” he says. The red sky he added for drama. “Selecting a color is a very personal choice for me.”
Red Star exhibits his work through the Merida Gallery in Red Lodge, managed by his daughter, Merida Red Star. The “Painted Pony Gallery” in Big Sky is presently showing Kevin’s work as well. In 2005, the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings hosted a special show with pieces spanning more of thirty years of Red Star’s work, including outstanding paintings from private collections. Among the museums holding Kevin Red Star originals in their permanent collections in the US are the Smithsonian Institution, the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, the Denver Art Museum, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Whitney Museum of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art in Indianapolis. Internationally, the Pierre Cardin Collection in Paris as well as museums in Belgium, Germany, China and Japan hold Red Star originals.
Would Kevin Red Star still be an artist if nobody bought his work? Without hesitation, he answers: “Absolutely. I feel a deep need to create art. Needless to say, I would have to work in another job to pay for my brushes and pigments, but, yes, I would always produce art. It’s for my own enjoyment.”
Kevin Red Star has become a historian, recorder, and ambassador for his native Crow nation and culture. His work captures the culture of the 19th century Northern Plains Indians in stunning detail: There are dancers in full regalia, war parties on horses slinking through the night or returning victorious and glowing with pride. There are young women and old men, chiefs and scouts. War bonnets, shields and feathers, and dresses decorated with beads and elk ivories. Tipis are a recurring theme: tipis in the snow and tipis on a starlit night. “They signify home, life and the people’s place in the universe,” Kevin says. And then there are horses, lots of horses: the pride and measure of wealth of the Plains Indians, the animal that profoundly changed the lives of the nomadic hunter. “Even though I am not always objective with what I portray on canvas and in graphic form, for the most part I include parts and bits of the Crow culture – colors that they use, or the four directions for instance. Symbols and designs that are very important to the Crow are implied in my work.”