By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, 2015 Artists in Business Leadership Fellow
Just do it. This is what Gilbert Kills Pretty Enemy III (Standing Rock Sioux) tells emerging Native artists. But it was something he had to first do himself.
His 20s passed before he realized he should take the art inside him seriously. All he needed was to pick up a pen and release his emotions on paper. Or click a mouse and create the bold lines that inspired him as a kid. Through his business, Chameleon Horse Art & Design, Gilbert has branched off into more art mediums: painting, wood burning, mixed media, ledger art.
With education and support, his personal mission is to push himself. Test limits. Pour his heart and soul into all his work.
This tenacity spills out to the artists around him in the Bear Soldier District community in McLaughlin, South Dakota. Gilbert shows other artists how every piece created is simply practice. To not worry if others don’t like what they create. Make mistakes. Fall, get up, keep at it.
To Gilbert, everyone is a sculptor, chiseling and sculpting themselves throughout their lives. He tells soon-to-be artists not to waste their abilities. Life is too short to wait for someone else’s approval. Just do it.
There were times when Gilbert thought he should have gone down a different road. But at a First Peoples Fund training, he learned he wasn’t alone on this journey. There are other artists working, creating, bringing tears of healing to peoples’ eyes with their work. He’s glad he stuck with being a Native artist. He sees the happiness his art brings – the gratitude in a friend or a stranger – and that tells him he’s doing the right thing.
First Peoples Fund has helped undergird his day-to-day business as his “art changes like a chameleon, with the strength of a horse that drives him.” He just does it.