Kevin Red Star
Article by Stephanie Hower
“Focus, like Yoda,” Red Star chuckles, describing his favorite bit of wisdom.“Putting all of your energies into what you are doing….focus on what you want to do and see it complete in your mind.”
For as long as he can remember, Red Star’s focus has been art. He recalls sketching as a young child, using crayons, tablets, or whatever he could get his hands on to bring his imagination to life. “I just drew. There were no tools or an environment that was conducive to creativity, the way I wanted.” At times, his youthful exuberance tried the patience of adults. “A lot of graffiti in my mom’s friends’ homes,” Red Star admits. “When I was a little kid, there was a story where one of my friends said ‘My mom would complain about you! When your mom brought you over, you were bored, so you would sketch little figures on our floor.’ I always drew.”
Growing up in Lodge Grass and Pryor, Red Star spent much of his time outdoors. “When I was a kid, they never took us anywhere,” he laughs. “We just hung out by the creek… hiked and hunted. Played outside. No TV, no cell phones.” Simpler times afforded simpler pleasures. He loved the mountains and felt blessed to be in an area surrounded by such natural beauty. “My uncles had horses, so we were always on horseback, from about 5 or 6 years of age. Or we were out in the sun in the summertime…we ran out around with no shirts, just trousers….until we had to go back to school. I loved growing up there…it was so innocent. You didn’t have to pay bills!” His upbringing also afforded Red Star the chance to connect with his Native American heritage, an inspiration which shaped his art forever onwards. “I’ve always loved the culture. It fascinated me, the ceremonies and rituals that the Old People did. They still do, the Crow Indians, the elders. They were special things and my fascination grew. Even up to this day, I like to create some of the thoughts and visuals of those gatherings of the Old People.”
In the mid-’60s, a unique and groundbreaking opportunity was presented to Red Star, then just a teenager. In Santa Fe, New Mexico an art school was founded for Native American youth on a shared campus with the Pueblo groups of the area. Tribes across the country, from Inuit to Apache, were invited to select aspiring artists in their own communities to attend. “They sent representatives to different agencies…and asked who would be a candidate, with any potential artistic bent. When the representatives came to the Crow area, people in the community said ‘That little Red Star kid, he really loves to draw!’”
His parents quickly agreed, knowing he needed to explore this blossoming talent. Red Star found himself experiencing his first taste of air travel, on a plane bound for Santa Fe. “It was a dream. It took a lot to get us there, programs and grants… but it was exciting.” Young native artists with little exposure to proper tools or instruction were finally given a chance to develop and hone their skills. “We had some really fine instructors, which was great for us, fresh off the reservation…it really inspired us to be like them.” Students were introduced to sculpting, dance, pottery, weaving, literature and other cultural arts. For Red Star, it was painting that held a special allure. “I was introduced to the world of painting, with proper instruction. It was an eye opener for me,” he recalls of the exposure to artwork from across the globe. As a child from Montana, he had little knowledge of galleries or museums. “We did a lot of exploring, with the color wheel and light and shading. That’s what the school was all about.”
Red Star now works out of two studios, one in Santa Fe and a main studio in Roberts, MT, which has been a refuge for him for the last 20 years. “Once I close the door, it’s like another world,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter where you are.” His daughter, Sunny Sky, is also a painter and helps him oversee operations. “Sunny has really been great, with everything that pertains to business,” he adds. Tragically, his oldest daughter Merida passed away in an auto accident 10 years ago. “She left us with her legacy, Mason,” Red Star says of his grandson. “He looks just like his mom, he’s a handsome guy.” When Merida was pregnant with Mason, over 18 years ago, Red Star made the switch from oil paints to acrylics, wishing to spare his daughter from the fumes; acrylics have been his medium of choice ever since. He remembers his children responding to artwork very early on. “Merida, every time she saw a Dali as a young child, she went bonkers. The energy she got from that artist’s painting,” he remarks, “it was incredible.” When Mason was young, she even named their chocolate lab “Salvador Doggie” as tribute, a memory which still brings a smile to Red Star’s face.
In a life shaped by art, both pursuing and creating it, Red Star has discovered two great passions “I love waterfalls,” he divulges. “I want to see waterfalls all over the world. It’s one of my things before I go to the ‘Other World’…they fascinate me with their power. And traveling.” Traveling has constituted a major part of Red Star’s journey, visiting the great museums around the globe and viewing and hosting galleries, both of which serve to inspire and instill a sense of awe. Overall, Red Star has developed a deep understanding of focus, the ability it takes to put an idea onto a blank canvas. “Truth, honesty, and respect,” Red Star summarizes. “Truth to yourself in creating something, not just doing something to please somebody. Be honest to yourself, what you are creating…not just be doing it because it is easy or it sells. And respect.” No matter what, Red Star carries what he learned from the Old People inside. “Things come to me, as old as I am. ‘This is what they were trying to tell me’,” he reflects, always finding a way to balance his creativity with a respect for one’s space and for nature.