Hówašte Profile: Daniel McCoy

December 27, 2017


Shoshone Madonna II by Daniel McCoy, winner of the Br. CM Simon, SJ Award for artwork to be used for publicity for the following year's show.


From the very beginning of his life in rural Oklahoma, Daniel McCoy was surrounded by the broadest range of artistic traditions. His grandfather, a furniture upholsterer and member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi, and his grandmother, a seamstress from the Muscogee Creek Nation, took Daniel along to traditional Native art shows and encouraged his earliest efforts to draw. His mother, a music lover who bought Daniel his very first drawing desk, introduced him to rock and roll and to contemporary artists like Keith Haring during family trips to New York. And his father, an Irish biker from California who had been part of the counterculture movement in San Francisco, shared his own kind of art with Daniel: pinstriping hot rods and Harley Davidsons.

Ultimately, all those traditions—from the ancient to the modern—shaped Daniel’s unique perspective and aesthetic as an artist.

“As a child, I would go to a Native art show and see an Oscar Howe painting of a water bird—and then come home and watch my dad pinstriping a Harley—and I had no idea that those works came from two entirely different cultures,” said Daniel. “In the same way, I didn’t realize until later that I was a mixed blood—the first in my family. That was a big deal, and for a time in my life I felt that I didn’t really fit in anywhere. And so I drew. I drew constantly—I think it was a way for me to occupy my mind and express myself. My mom bought me that drawing table with the green stamps you could get at Safeway, and I basically drew on that until I outgrew it.”

With strong support from his family, Daniel progressed as an artist. At 15 he went to Sequoyah, a boarding school run by the Cherokee Nation, where he developed a strong bond with his art teacher, Mary Adair. She pushed Daniel to go beyond what he’d drawn as a child—G.I. Joe, skulls, or comic book images—and to try new subjects and mediums, like drawing human figures and starting to oil paint.

While still in high school, Daniel started entering shows at the Heard Museum, as well as in the Red Cloud Indian Art Show. It became clear that his future was in the arts, and he found his way to Santa Fe, to the Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA). As one of IAIA’s youngest students, the move was intimidating—but he found inspiration in the diverse mix of Native cultures and artistic traditions surrounding him.

“At IAIA, I started out trying to be a traditional artist. But my instructors were very contemporary—so for them it was more about being clever or conceptual, instead of being technically proficient in painting or drawing,” he said. “I was still really a child and not quite deep enough in my thinking yet—so it was challenging to dazzle them. But their critiques made me go back to the drawing board and really work hard.”

Daniel took break from IAIA and returned home to Oklahoma for the birth of his first son—but remained focused on developing his craft. He began working for a commercial sign business under the direction of artist and designer Chuck Osborne, where he painted everything from television backdrops to hand-designed billboards. That experience gave him the confidence to attempt the monumental projects he’s focused on today.


Artwork courtesy, Daniel McCoy.


Back in Santa Fe, Daniel completed his work at IAIA—and decades later, he still continues to take classes and add to his degree. Right now his own art is centered on large-scale pieces, like murals and other public art projects, rather than gallery works for retail sale. The vibrant, even psychedelic colors and cartoon-inspired images in his work reflect his desire to bring levity to the art world. But he also doesn’t shy away from taking on critical issues facing indigenous peoples today—like environmental attacks on Native lands.

“Over the last decade there’s been this growing consciousness in the art world around environmental crises, and it’s affected me as well. In the area where I’m from, we can’t swim or fish in the water ways now. We have earthquakes from fracking. And where my wife is from, in northern Nevada, there is the danger of uranium mining,” he said. “I’ve seen this awakening on many different reservations across the country—this realization that we need to push back to protect our natural resources. And there’s a shared thread about that movement in Native art today.”

Telling those kind of powerful cultural stories—but adding a graphic, modern twist—is in Daniel’s DNA. His older son is a graffiti artist, and he says his younger children are always drawing too. Their passion for art inspires him and gives him hope in the Native artists who are just emerging and discovering their talent now.

Their challenge, he says, is to find their own unique voice in a complex world.

“I’ve always believed, as my grandfather did, that Native art deserves the respect that the European greats have received. So as Native artists, we have to challenge that dominant Western timeline and narrative,” he said. “But being Native American is something completely different to each and every individual. So for younger artists, I think the challenge is to draw on that unique experience. Don’t be afraid to do something that’s to the left or to the right of what’s expected. Look deeper into your stories and the stories of your people. Ask questions and dig deep. That will be your source.”


Artwork courtesy, Daniel McCoy.

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School



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