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||INDIANS & COWBOYS: PORTRAIT OF THE BOY AS A YOUNG ARTIST|
I can’t remember when I first started “coloring.” Probably it was like most kids at age two or three. The first drawings I remember doing were of tanks, soldiers and airplanes, so it must have been when I was four or five , during the last years of War World II. I was somewhat aware of the war then because I remember shouting, “Bombs over Tokyo,” when letting it loose on the toilet. I also remember stamping on cans to be collected for the war effort and monitoring the donation of accumulated bacon grease. I also have a vivid memory of a Movietone News clip of the mushroom cloud from the exploding of the first atomic bomb and my amazement of the awful destructive power of fungus.
However, my use of battle subject matter didn’t last for long. I have always been at heart a colorist and quickly lost interest in the drabness of military grays, greens and metallic hues. I fell in love with the vivid color and action of Cowboys and Indians. I became a specialist in epic chase scenes with hoards of mounted Indians chasing a few benighted cowboys. The horses and people were drawn as monochromatic stick figures while my passion was concentrated on the vividly colored details: multihued feathers on arrows and war bonnets, war paint, bright bandanas, and pools of dripping blood, none of it native American.
A few words on technique: To accommodate the wide sweep of my dramas I made scrolls out of cut bands of brown Kraft wrapping paper. Without realizing it I was working on a neutral, earth color ground, a favorite technique of Renaissance painters. I started drawing with crayons but even the pristine points straight out of the box proved too crude so I switched to pencil for the figure work. Once the scene was laid out I set to work, all atingle with my quiver of 64 Crayola pigment missiles.
A few remarks about crayons: First of all at that time crayon was synonymous with Crayola (the puissant cheapies from China given to kids at family restaurants were still decades in the future.) There were smaller sets available but the dream of every kid was the four-tiered 64 piece set that even had a sharpener built into the hinged box. What a joke! The best you could do with an accident blunted crayon, after much grinding, was to restore the tip to about half the fineness of the it’s original condition. Using a crayon for the first time was like driving a new car: one tried to drive the one as long as possible before the first inevitable scratch and to use the other as long as possible before it broke. However, crayon failure was built in. The darn things never lived up to their implied promise. There was just not enough precious pigment in the “wax” (mostly much cheaper paraffin) to get the same color on the paper that seemed to be in the crayon. The more one bore down the more intense the color got until, snap! Now, like a severed worm, you had two sticks instead of one( small consolation for one too young to take it philosophically). Crayola still makes a 64 color set even if it is far from the largest selection available. However, at least two of the colors in the old deluxe collection have been renamed: flesh and Indian Red. Which gets me back to my main theme, artogenic Indians.
Why Cowboys and Indians? With the white men outnumbered fifty to one and always on the losing side of the feathered stick, shouldn’t it be Indians and Cowboys? And how about my moppet sympathies? I was PC long before my time, the heck with Manifest Destiny; the Indians were so much more colorful.
The more I think about it the more Cowboys and Indians seems a specious pairing. Cowboys rarely fought Indians. They were too busy in their own world riding the range, lording it over cows. Indians were at war with settlers, homesteaders. It was the US cavalry that fought Indians; the cavalry and the US Government.
There is much truth in the adage; the boy is father to the man. Now, as a man, an older man, I still put aesthetics first. That is why I am such a colorful character.