Dancing on canvas
“I’m not too worried about rejection,” stated Institute of American Indian Arts senior Kit Julianto, a soft-spoken 25-year-old painter whose ancestry is Shoshone, Paiute, and Navajo. Hours before he was scheduled to leave New Mexico for home — the small town of Owyhee, Nevada — Julianto sat down with Pasatiempo for an interview.
Julianto is the first in his family to attend college and is proud of his achievement, as are his older brother, two sisters, and father. “Everybody in my family and my village looks up to me now, and it’s a good feeling. But it’s also a big responsibility. I’m kind of a role model now,” he said. Julianto’s formative years were spent as a military kid— he was born on the Mountain Home Air Force Base in southwest Idaho— but he didn’t travel that much and never experienced big-city life. “I lived most of my life on a reservation secluded from any city, and Santa Fe seems pretty big to me, although I’ve visited Boise and Seattle to see the gallery scene.”
Julianto applied to IAIA on the advice of a friend and with the support of his family. He wanted to study drumming and ceremonial singing, but he learned that IAIA does not yet offer curricula in either discipline, which led him into the visual arts. “Back home I make drums, drumsticks, and ceremonial regalia like shields, staffs, and spears. But when I got to the college, they didn’t have anything like that, so I made the best of it,” he said. “When I was young, I did a lot of drawings of dancers, so the change in my focus here wasn’t that difficult.”
Julianto explored a variety of mediums and different forms of expression before finding a style in which he was comfortable. “When I started taking art classes, it seemed like everybody was painting Indian dancers. And I wanted to be different, so I moved from doing figurative stuff, to abstract, to nonobjective painting. I really got into Jackson Pollock’s work and appreciated his relationship to Indian culture. I also like Jimi Gleason’s abstract work; his colors are so vibrant. I’m also drawn to the work of Comanche artist Nocona Burgess, who is also a flute player.” In creating his own paintings, Julianto uses both additive and subtractive methods and incorporates acrylic and spray paint — which he builds up with molding paste, giving his work a highly textured surface.
But as much as Julianto has progressed in the visual arts, he has not altered his path. “Music is a numberone priority for me, and painting is secondary. Music is a natural activity in my family.” Julianto has found a way to combine painting with his love of Native music. “I listen to powwow music while I paint, along with the blues, which I never really listened to before I got to college. Now I love the blues. And it’s all conducive to the creative process. My abstract work has a lot to do with music as inspiration.
“When I listen to powwow and ceremonial music, I start dancing, which is reflected in my work. The big gestures in my paintings are from using my whole body. And in the same way that there are many layers to ceremonial music, there are multiple layers to my painting.
“My philosophy is to make art for yourself first and for other people in a more general way,” Julianto said. Yet he has not yet tried to get into a gallery. “I’m not quite ready to do that, to commit myself to the gallery scene. I want to go home and get reconnected to my family and my culture. But I’ll miss the people here, my new friends, the studio space, and the critiques. But I’ll be back.”
Indeed, Julianto has found Santa Fe to have a good support base for young Indian artists. “Santa Fe is a place where I feel I can pursue my art; I have a connection here. The Native presence in Santa Fe is a big factor for wanting to come back,” he said. “I believe— with IAIA based here, and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and Indian Market— there’s a lot of support and opportunities to make those connections for artists like me.”
Untitled print by Kit Julianto