Hówašte Artist | Micheal Two Bulls

As a child, Micheal Two Bulls was surrounded by creativity. As part of a large extended family of Native artists, Michael watched his aunts and uncles create everything from intricate beadwork and work carvings to contemporary paintings. Inspired by their work, he began drawing at an early age, and ultimately found his way to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, he discovered his own unique style—and found his voice as an artist.

“Before I went to art school, I created the normal stuff that kids often do—I was into portraiture and liked to draw my heroes,” said Micheal. “But when I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts, I was challenged to reflect on my own personal experiences and to draw on them to create my work. Using my voice in that way was a real education for me.”

During his time at the Institute, Micheal discovered a passion for printmaking that has guided his career in the years since. As a student, he had the chance to study and work alongside with professors who were also master printers, and his appreciation for the medium grew quickly. His professors become mentors—and today, printmaking plays a fundamental role in his mixed-media work, which also incorporates painting, collage, and sculpture. 

It was his expressions in printmaking that earned Micheal the prestigious Brother C.M. Simon Award at last year’s Red Cloud Indian Art Show. His winning piece—Battlefield A, B, C—was a collaborative creative developed with his long-time friend and writing professor, poet Mark Turcotte. Turcotte’s poem Battlefield, a reflection on growing up on a reservation, became the inspiration for Micheal’s visual interpretations. The final piece is set of three bold, contemporary side-by-side prints revealing a series of overlapping images from a childhood in Indian Country.

To create the piece, Micheal worked with another former professor, Mitchell Marti, master printer at Interbang Press in Santa Fe.

“Master printers are there to assist the artist who there to make the art—so we worked together to create an edition of about 100 prints. It was both fun and nerve-racking—running editions can be tough—but it was worth it,” he explained. “I really wasn’t thinking of any awards when I submitted them. Here in the North Country my work can be a little too contemporary for some and gets mixed reviews, so I was both surprised and excited. I always love submitting to the Red Cloud show and supporting local culture here.” 

And in the years to come, Micheal is committed to doing more to support local Native artists. He and a number of other family members have been working together to create a gallery and coffee shop in Red Shirt Table, a small village at the edge of the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He says the space will ultimately serve as a place for community members to gather—and for artists to share their work, earn a sustainable income, and build their careers. 

“Lakota people are all artists in some regard, whether we think of what we create as fine art or traditional craft arts. Because there are so few jobs on the reservation, we have to be resilient and create our own by producing and selling our work,” he said. “The gallery space is coming together little by little and piece by piece—last year we put in the windows and this year the flooring. But we want this to be a kind of trading post, where artists can come and sell their work to support themselves and their families.” 

Once the gallery is up and running, Micheal and his wife, Angel Two Bulls, plan to expand on the space in order to create a cultural center and, eventually, a school for emerging Native artists. They want to build upon the few arts education programs already working on the reservation—and give young people another place to find their own voices as artists.

“I want to encourage young Native artists not be afraid to make mistakes. It’s easy to become frustrated, but it’s all about making those mistakes in order to learn—just working every day at your craft,” said Micheal. “Art gave me a voice I normally wouldn’t have, and a seat at any time. Being an artist does give you a new voice to speak through. You just have to find what you really want to say with that voice, and share it with the world.”


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Photos © 2017 Red Cloud Indian School, Inc.
last updated: July 28, 2017