Grant Spotted Bull talks in a quiet and reflective tone. From the moment he begins to speak, you get the sense that each of his words is carefully measured. He’s purposeful in what he says, almost as though he’s creating a picture with the use of language – which stands to reason, because Spotted Bull is in fact an artist who draws from himself internally in order to express himself to the world.
Spotted Bull is a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Fine Arts – Native American Art program at the University of Lethbridge. The U of L library recently acquired four of Spotted Bull’s paintings. Entitled Medicine Wheel Series, the four oil paintings, now adorning the walls of the library’s tenth floor, are the culmination of an idea that had been germinating in Spotted Bull’s mind for more than 20 years.
“The idea for the series came to me in a dream when I was about 19 or 20 years old,” says Spotted Bull. “It was a very vivid image and it stuck with me. I always wanted to create it in painting, but I didn’t have the skills to do it until now.”
Artistic ability comes naturally to Spotted Bull. Although he didn’t have any formal training before his twenties, as a child Spotted Bull says he was constantly doodling – at home, in school, wherever he may be. Both of his parents were artistically inclined, and his maternal grandmother was somewhat of a prodigy.
“My mother told me stories about my grandmother, Mary Eva, and how the nuns thought she should go to school for art back East. Her parents wanted her to marry instead so she put her dreams aside,” he says. “My grandmother has been an inspiration for me. In a way, I feel I am fulfilling my grandmother’s potential.”
Prior to enrolling at the University of Lethbridge, Spotted Bull had a diverse professional past, working in areas ranging from retail to the automotive industry. He knew he loved art and began feeling compelled to express himself that way in his early twenties, but wasn’t sure about attending university until he discovered the Bachelor of Fine Arts – Native American Art (Art Studio) program at U of L, which was launched last fall.
“The program allows me to express my art in a manner, spirit and meaning that’s deeply understood by other Native American and First Nations artists. It gives me a platform upon which to explore issues that matter to me, and fully invest my time thinking about ways to represent them visually,” says Spotted Bull.
Spotted Bull’s Medicine Wheel Series is an expansion on the medicine wheel he envisioned in his dreams more than two decades ago. He painted four incarnations of the wheel, each measuring approximately six feet square. Titled in order they are: Creation, The Medicine Wheel, Fractured and Post. Each piece is symbolic of a period in First Nations history.
“For me a medicine wheel is about healing, and the series is a way to express the need for that healing,” says Spotted Bull. “Creation is symbolic of the time before the earth was made – a sort of preexistence. The Medicine Wheel represents North America before colonialism, Fractured represents the impact of residential schools and our disconnection from each other and from nature at that time. And the final painting, Post, is reflective of my generation and where things stand today.”
Spotted Bull estimates he spent more than 1,000 hours creating the series. Fractured and Post each took less than two weeks to complete, but The Medicine Wheel took him almost an entire semester to finish. Often he’d be in the studio for up 40 hours at a time with no sleep, working in a kind of trancelike state to get the vision he’d carried for so long out on canvas.
“When I paint it’s very relaxing – it’s almost a meditation,” says Spotted Bull. “When I get in that place, I’m really just a vessel. The work just flows through me.”
As far as the future goes, Spotted Bull’s philosophy is in keeping with his culture and artistic free spirit. He plans to graduate in spring 2015 and isn’t too concerned with where he might go from there.
“In my culture we tend to not look too far into the future. We can prepare for the future, but we don’t know what it will hold. I came to the U of L to gain skills and knowledge. I’ve done that, and I have faith that what I’ve learned will take me where I’m supposed to be.”