September 27, 2012

The artist in the mirror


---- — AuSABLE FORKS — Art entered Kakwirakeron ("Scattered branches") Montour’s consciousness at an early age.

“I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old, my mom painting a couple of pictures,” said Montour, who lives in Kahnawake, Quebec.

“One was of an old stone house in Kahnawake. The one that really stayed with me most of my life is a picture of an Indian woman in a buckskin dress.”

When his mother relocated from Brooklyn to Georgia, the buckskin-dress painting was lost, but Montour never forgot it.

“To me, it was magic that my mother could do this. I wanted to do that,” he said.

His brother, Mark, also had artistic talent. He brought part of a mural home.

“It was something fascinating. It inspired me. First, it was very frustrating. I couldn’t do it. The big thing for me (was) what happened in 1963, we moved to New York, to Brooklyn.”

He attended the High School of Art and Design when he wasn’t spending an exorbitant amount of time viewing the old masters and the SoHo scene.

“I used to haunt the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I educated my own eyes. I wasn’t sure how it related to me. I looked at it. I loved a lot of what I saw. Things inspire you. I always loved the work of Dutch masters — Rembrandt, Vermeer and these other lesser-known ones as well. The things I saw were magic,” Montour said.

Montour returned to Kahnawake. He illustrated a book of legends and traditional teachings for the North American Indian Traveling College.

He taught classes at the cultural center on the American side of Akwesasne. His family relocated to Thunder Bay, where he worked in children’s mental health. Sixteen years later, he returned to Kahnawake.

He did editorial cartoons for the Eastern Door newspaper and won provincial and national awards for his work.

He and his second wife took a trip to the Southwest and toured Scottsdale, Ariz., and Santa Fe and Taos, N.M. He was not only taken by the beauty of the land but also the art he saw.

His wife said to him, “Oh, you can do that.”

“The first time I met her, I doodled on a napkin. She framed it. It’s the woman-behind-the-man thing. I said, ‘OK, all right, you asked for this.'”

In 2004, Montour applied himself. He is an oil man.

“I have done work with acrylics. It’s not a very sympathetic medium to me. It’s not tactile enough. I love the feel of pushing the oil around. It’s dirt from the earth, really. I like how it pulls and drags, and I can make it look smooth, shape-shifting.”

His images depict the faces of his people.

“Who we are … the faces in the ground, the faces to come, the faces of our ancestors and our children. Obviously, our faces have changed over hundreds of years. This is what happens,” Montour said.

Mohawk historian Darren Bonaparte asked Montour to illustrate his book, “A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekahkwi: tha.” Bonaparte was drawn by Montour's use of the faces of living Mohawks.

“It’s this living history kind of thing,” Montour said. "I don’t do Robert Griffing, who does paintings of historical 18th-century Indians. I’m painting people who are alive today. We today are we then and tomorrow. That’s what really inspires me.

"It’s about faces and people. The human being is a subject forever. That’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid … people.”

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