The shapes in Terran Last Gun’s artwork — skyward-gazing discs, sharply drawn triangles, portal-like doorways and striped expanses — aren’t purely abstract.
They’re rooted in forms he noticed in ledger art by his father, Terrance Guardipee, and then studied on painted lodges used by the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy.“
These were mobile art, in a sense, moving with camp,” he said in a Zoom interview from his home base in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He sees them as “pieces of what we could call art today that’s overlooked, and not really talked about.”
In his first solo museum exhibition, “Future Cosmic Energy,” at the Missoula Art Museum, Last Gun is sharing years’ worth of work exploring that “visual vocabulary, or iconography,” and how he’s found ways of “layering all these different interests together.”While ledger art is often figurative, he studied and zeroed in on these lodges and their surfaces.
“We really viewed and interpreted our world, our landscape in Montana and Alberta, in this geometric way … this Indigenous abstraction,” he said. The symbols refer to stars and cosmos, mountains and earth, earth and animal helpers.
“There’s so much history behind those lodges that people don’t really know,” he said.
Art all around
Last Gun, who is Piikani (Blackfeet), grew up in Browning. As a child, he watched the work of his father who’s been recognized around the U.S. for his innovative approach to ledger art.
Besides the figures and animals, Last Gun was curious about the geometric shapes. Those were derived from painted lodges made by members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which encompasses groups in the United States and Canada. The particulars of the iconography at the base of the lodges (also referred to as tipis) that represents land is different, though. The Piikani include triangles to represent hills, mounds that signify hills, and flat lines for plains.
The lodges were not common when he was young — he’d only see them on special occasions. He’s sought out owners to meet them and do research.Last Gun said he initially intended to avoid following Guardipee into art. First, he studied environmental science at Blackfeet Community College. On a trip to Canada, he saw Blackfeet war shirts (on loan from the University of Oxford), and was fascinated by the designs, with signature elements like a large disc that represents the sun. During a Blackfeet art history course, he began thinking about Indigenous ways of making art versus the modern, European-derived definitions.
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