INSIDE Z.S. Liang • Sporting Art • Small Works and Miniatures • The West Select NOVEMBER 2014
VO I C E S SPIRITUAL
The Bear Medicine Man, oil on canvas, 46 x 34â&#x20AC;?
Using a variety of historical sources, Z.S. Liang tells personal Native American stories for his new Arizona exhibition. By Michael Clawson
andwiched between the paint and the canvas is something that can’t always be seen in a piece of artwork, but it can be felt, albeit subtly. That hidden layer: story. Western and Native American painter Z.S. Liang cuts through the understatement: “Getting that story is the single most crucial part of painting. It’s that simple. Story is what makes a great painting,” he says. Born in China, and now living in Agoura Hills—a hilly enclave outside of Los Angeles, California—Liang has built his artistic career on his unique brand of Western and Native American storytelling. He begins with relentless reading and studying. “Generally I will gather the story firsthand, or even from museum descriptions of objects, or from personal histories, but almost all my stories come from books,” he says. “These include historical records, documents or even diaries or journals. There are so many stories that are great and interesting, and many of them are suitable for painting.” Liang says he finds much potential from his reading, so much that it can be daunting sifting through it all. But he has
Medicine Healer, oil on canvas, 48 x 28”
Calling For the Buffalo Spirit, oil on canvas, 36 x 28â&#x20AC;?
The Ermine Headress, oil on canvas, 20 x 12”
a canvas, but carefully crafted symbols of a real culture and its spiritual beliefs. They’re also individuals. “I do pay a lot of attention to the individual person. For example, the personality and character of the man in The Bear Medicine Man was created to convey that feeling a medicine man would have,” Liang says. “I want it all there: the spirituality of his belief, that respect for it, the power of the animal, the sun, Mother Nature…there is a spiritual connection and spiritual power. The medicine man had that type of quality. And I wanted to convey that in my painting.” He revisits that theme in Calling For the Buffalo Spirit, featuring a man, his palms open to the sky, kneeling before the painted skull of a buffalo. “By 1883, the last herd of buffalo had been hunted. The American Plains Indian people had depended on the buffalo for their subsistence for hundreds of years,” Liang says. “The lack of food forced these proud people to become dependent upon the white man, which in time forced them into reservations. This Lakota man is praying to the buffalo spirit for the return of the buffalo and their way of life.” Liang is searching for truth in his works. But more than that, he’s creating truth. “You have to convince people that you believe in what is happening,” he says. “And I do.” Liang will be at Trailside Galleries to meet collectors and sign his new book Native TrailsFresh Tracks on November 15 from 1 to 4 p.m.
one sure-fire method of deciding on a subject: “If a picture pops in my mind while I’m reading a story, then that is suitable for painting. Some pictures don’t pop in, so those are not suitable.” Liang says this might sound obvious for painters, but it’s remarkable how often artists try to force ideas that they can’t quite visualize. “Seeing the picture is the only way to begin a piece, and every detail helps,” he adds. In Liang’s new showcase, opening November 3 at Trailside Galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, the artist is telling stories about Native American figures as they encounter tradition or nature. His dominant figure in The Bear Medicine Man, featuring a medicine man treating an injured warrior, is experiencing both. “The Native American hunter often encountered bear, not always by choice. These experienced hunters learned the bear was ferocious and retaliated with a vengeance, to kill the bear in a one-on-one confrontation was an accomplishment to be recognized by the entire tribe,” Liang writes about the piece. “The bear possessed the power to heal its wounds—the wound would close rapidly and bleed little because of the dense layer of fat under the skin. It was believed this power of healing could be passed on to a chosen one in a dream or vision. This Crow medicine man was believed to have such power. The wounded warrior is placed at the front of the sacred Eagle Medicine Rock before the last sun rays diminish. The medicine man is shaking his rattle ferociously to keep the evil spirit away, treating the wounded warrior with all his powers to save his life.” It is stories like this, and the spiritual voices of its characters, that inspire Liang’s work, and also his artistic desire to capture the personality of his figures. His subjects aren’t just paint on
Siksika Hunter, oil on canvas, 9 x 12”
Z.S. Liang Showcase
When: November 3-15, 2014; November 15, 1-4 p.m., reception and book signing Where: Trailside Galleries, 7330 Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 Information: (480) 945-7751, www.trailsidegalleries.com