Gary Kekoa Dillon’s Artist’s Statement

Gary Kekoanui Dillon
Gabriola Island, 2019
Artist Statement Flor y Canto (Flower and Song)

Influences?  They are many:   My boyhood artistic hero (among others) was Paul Gauguin, who like myself later came into a special relationship with the Polynesian cultures and peoples of the Pacific.  I also claim William Blake as an ancestor of this creative hand of mine, both as a poetic voice and a genius of mythos.  I often return to find inspiration in the pictorial elements and the evident sorrows of Russian icon painters.  My artistic vision was lifted into yet another direction by the confrontation at a distance with those great Mexican muralists–Diego Rivera, Saturnino Herrán–even Siqueiros.  They understood and proclaimed how the vision of the people again and again redeems the work of fools.  The embrace of their muralist vision coincided with certain ancestral discoveries of a personal nature.  From another direction their artistic view coincides with an opportunity which came my way to plumb the depths of the mesoamerican vision of life as mediated by the nahuatl version of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, otherwise known as Tonántzin.

Thus, as an artist I wish to express my take on the still flourishing magic desert spirituality called flor y canto (“flower and song”), with which I came into contact in unspeakable ways on my uncle’s homestead in southeastern Colorado forty decades ago.  This magic (the dance of the flowers, the echoes of our songs) is rooted in landscape and the subtle breezes of place, and that means that it stubbornly remains located on the frontier between the colonizer and the colonized here in the so-called “New World”–where nervous systems of strangers and intimates alike might possibly unwind the civilizational trance under the guidance of rough desert vegetation and the call of the coyote.  By placing human figures into special relationships with the natural order of body and cosmos–through occasionally slanted perspectives and intimations of natural grandeur–I imagine the expression of a spiritual longing that is touched by both real grief on one side and a rooted confrontation with holy appearances and epiphanies not bound by any missionary project, on the other.

Though human beings necessarily appear in my paintings, the paintings do not aspire to tell only a human-centered story–not even a story of revolution, reform, still less of any present-day policy-obsessions or Facebook-driven wiseacreing, left or right.  I like to think the figures in these paintings are hinting at the recovery–and perhaps last-ditch survival–of Big Stories in whose absence we human beings have become progressively diminished in what might have been–and with certain labours in hand, still may be–our praiseworthy, existential grandeur.  May we once again be the species whose intelligent appearance in the natural world is ordered to love, marvel, and beauty-making in all of the ways that we carry ourselves from day-to-day.  May we pay attention to the living signs and remnants of the ancient pact between these three:  the human, the dignities of non-human Great Nature, and the fugitive Holy in our world.