Chris Pappan sent me an email back in 2007. That was when I was the editor of NAICA online, another online zine that focused on Native Indigenous artists and filmmakers. He introduced himself suggesting I’d be interested in featuring his work in our magazine. I was, and three years later, in an entirely different magazine, here it is.
FLABmag: It’s a standard question but what drove you to become a painter? How long have you been making work?
Chris Pappan: I guess the standard question deserves the standard answer: I’ve always been an artist; I’ve been making work ever since I can remember. I think it’s really only been the past 10 years or so where I’ve been comfortable / happy with what I’m doing in terms of my painting.
FLABmag: Why the concentration in drawing and painting? Do you think it’s a consequence of attending IAIA in Santa Fe who is known for their adherence to more traditional arts?
Pappan: I attended IAIA right out of high school and was hoping to gain some sort of vocational /practical knowledge, so I ended up taking a lot of printmaking and computer courses. But back then (late 80′s), digital technology was changing so quickly that I would take one course, then it was obsolete, and so on, so it was one step forward, two steps back. I did feel that I was able to flex my creative muscle in the print studio while at the same time gaining practical knowledge of the various printmaking disciplines. At the same time, I was taking drawing studio courses and open painting studio courses, so I don’t think my current focus on painting and drawing was a direct result at all, more of an antithesis to my original intent. I was raised in Flagstaff AZ, so going into it I was paranoid of IA trying to force any kind of “Indian aesthetics” on me, but I was relieved to find that wasn’t the case at all. Most of the instructors I had were very open to experimentation, and exploration, and actually dissuaded some students away from the more “traditional” subject matter, which, when I look back on it now, is kinda fucked up. But I think they may have just been trying to get students to look beyond what they would normally do…
FLABmag: The IAIA is known for turning out artists who use a specific palette, style and subject in their figurative work do you agree your work is a direct extension of the canon of painting that came out of the school? Do you believe your work has evolved beyond and if so how so?
Pappan: I think if my work is seen as being influenced by the “IA school” of painters then it’s been purely subconscious on my part. I’m pretty much a self taught painter; the one painting class I had was an “open studio” where you would bring in what you were working on and have it critiqued. Mario Martinez was the instructor, and not having any other painting classes I had to submit my work to get in, and he liked what I was doing. That was very encouraging, and he didn’t hold back any punches either, he tended to piss a lot of people off. I like to think of my work as kind of nestling in right next to the other old school painters. A good artist is always pushing the boundaries, experimenting, and moving beyond one’s own limitations so I certainly like to think its evolving. Although that process has seemed to slow a bit because people are buying my work now, and when money comes into play, that changes the game. Maybe I’ve just been all over the place too much before, but as of now it feels like I’m hitting a stride and getting comfortable with that pace, but I try not to stay in one place for too long (artistically speaking).
FLABmag: You describe your work as “Pop Art” or as being influenced by Pop artists; what do you mean by this and can you give specific examples?
Pappan: I say I’m influenced by pop art, not necessarily Pop artists like Warhol, etc., but pop art being (not so) popular American contemporary “culture”. Coming out of “IA” I was confronted with a dilemma: do I make “Indian art” or not? But I was starting to see a lot of “Indian” imagery in pop surrealism, the rock posters of Frank Kozik, paintings of Todd Schorr and Eric White, and thought, “Ok, what if I make Indian art but in this new, pop surrealist style,” that really has no boundaries, and is based in contemporary American culture, which is what I grew up with: skateboarding, punk rock, playboy etc. So I think that was a good jumping off point where I started to do stuff that I liked and wanted to see, but at the same time working within the Indian Art parameters and trying to inject some new life into it. Now its just exploding, with the works of Debra Yepa Pappan, Ryan Singer, Micah Wesley, Douglas Miles, Amber Gunn, there’s a new school of Indian art out there and people are taking notice.
FLABmag: Who are some of your influences? Any peers you admire? Whose work do you find most inspiring? Like every time you see something they have done it pushes you to go beyond your limitations?
Pappan: The most influential person in my life is my wife and fellow artist Debra Yepa Pappan. I defer to her on all of my compositions and she provides me with constructive feedback, which I’m so lucky to have. We don’t always agree, and I think that’s a good thing. I just read a blog posted by an artist who I had the pleasure of meeting at Santa Fe Indian Market this past August, and he said something that I totally agreed with: (that) the most inspiring artists are ones I know personally. So I feel lucky that I can count among my friends: Debra Yepa Pappan, Ryan Singer, Monty Singer, Jeremy Singer, Craig George, Douglas Miles, John Joe, Amber Gunn and Silvester Hustito. I love their work and they’re great people. I wouldn’t say there is one artist in particular that will make me want to push myself further, it’s more of just seeing certain works here and there and liking so many different things that I find motivating.