The Art of Kirby Sattler

No Hard Line Between Sacred and Mundane

The art of Kirby Sattler (see this month’s cover) is fueled by an inherent interest in the Indigenous Peoples of the Earth. His current images evolve from the history, ceremony, mythology, and spirituality of the Native American. Sattler's attention to detail is purposeful. Equal importance is given to each painted visage, artifact, feather and bead, inviting the viewer of his paintings to closely examine and contemplate the symbology and aesthetics of the objects displayed. There is an authentic substance to his work. Though the paintings are not intended as historically accurate depictions, his portraits are singular, strong interpretations of the insepar-able relationship that existed between the Native Americans and their natural world, reflective of a culture that had no hard line between the sacred and the mundane.

Each painting functions on the premise that all natural phenomena have souls independent of their physical forms. Under such a belief, the wearing of sacred objects was a source of spiritual power. Any object—a stone, a plait of sweet grass, a part of an animal, the wing of a bird, could contain the essence of the metaphysical qualities identified to the objects and desired by the Native American. The acquisition of medicine or spiritual power, was central to the life of the Indian. It provided the conduit to the unseen forces of the universe.

In the Native American tradition, man communicated with the creator through his interaction with nature. Animals, possessing mystical powers, acted as intermedi-aries between human beings and the guiding supernatural forces. Through practiced ritual, dreams and experience, a link would be established between man and the spirit world that provided certain psychological assistance to the indi-vidual. I Am Crow is the artist’s interpretation of a continuing theme, revealing the relatedness of the North American Indian with all aspects of nature. The painting displays a symbolic attempt to achieve a personal, transcendent union with the metaphysical powers the crow was attributed to possessing.
 “ I attempt to give the viewer of my work,” Sattler says, “a sense of what these sacred objects meant to the wearer; when combined with the proper ritual or prayer there would be a transference of identity. More than just aesthetic adornment, it was an outward manifestation of their identity and interre-latedness with their natural world.”

Sattler has developed his painting into a distinctive style of ultra-realism. Entirely self-taught, the methodology involves a painstaking technique of transparent layering over multiple numbers of under-paintings. The results are finished canvasses that are rich in detail  with defined textures and surfaces. With the deliberate precision given to each work the artist produces only a small number of paintings in a year's time.

“My portraits evolve from visual references,” Sattler goes on to say, “my experiences and imagination. My later works lean toward presenting an authenticity of subject without necessarily implying a particular tribal identity; to present an essence of a culture, without the confinement of historical accuracy. There is information in the paintings from which the viewer is free to create their own story dependent on their knowledge of subject and sensibilities.

Sattler, a fiercely private person rarely making public appearances, enjoys a life of “active solitude,” as he puts it, and long hours at his easel. He and his wife moved from Colorado to Mexico in 2002. They make their home outside a small mountain town in the state of Jalisco.









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