Send us an email

The Motion of Breathing: Chris Pappan

March 25th, 2024
Pair of portrait drawings of a traditionally dressed Native American abstracted with overlaid yellow cross shapes and a gridded "exploded" perspective
Chris Pappan, Frequency 1 and 2,Pencil / graphite and ink on Rives BFK, 44"h x 30"w (each)

In his captivating exhibition of new work, ‘The Motion of Breathing,’ esteemed modern ledger artist Chris Pappan beckons viewers into a liminal reality where the lines between past, present, and future intersect and overlap.

Pappan, a citizen of the Kaw Nation (Kanza), with ancestral ties to the Lakota and Osage, is co-founder of the Center for Native Futures in Chicago, and a prominent, pioneering figure in the Indigenous Futurism fine art movement. Internationally recognized for his innovative approach to the traditional medium of ledger art, Pappan continues to transcend expectations and reshape narratives in ‘The Motion of Breathing.’

Drawing of a deer-headed woman in modern clothing and skateboarding amidst a graphic star-and-dangled-string background, and bordered on top and bottom by dancing deer silhouettes.
Chris Pappan, Sovereign 1, Pencil / graphite, gouache and ink on Real Estate Tax ledger, 28"h x 17"w

The exhibition’s evocative title emerged from a subtle yet impactful discovery made during Pappan’s exploration of museum archive photographs of Native people. In a photo dated to 1877, the subject, White Eagle (Ponca), is wearing a peace medal that is blurred from the motion of his breathing during the photo’s exposure. 

Tryptic of traditionally dressed and symmetrically posed Native American men, their portraits abstracted by an "exploded grid" and a single streak color washed over each piece.
Chris Pappan, Howageji Nizhuje Akipé (Where the Rivers Meet) (1,2,3), Pencil / graphite and gouache on Rives BFK, 44"h x 30"w (each)

Recounting this experience, which inspired his triptych, Howageji Nizhuje Akipé (Where the Rivers Meet), Pappan says, “I could see his breath, and I felt a connection with this human being across temporal realms—a profound moment of linear time being erased.”

Time existing as an all-encompassing cycle is a key concept in Pappan’s art and the artistic movement that his work upholds. Indigenous Futurism is driven by a philosophy that embraces cross-disciplinary approaches and the blending of traditional and modern techniques, an ethos vividly exemplified in Pappan’s mesmerizing creations.

In the artist’s words: “I’ve always been drawn to realism, and challenged by the abstract. By gridding images, distorting and exploding them, I’m emphasizing the evolution that occurs in the intersection of these methods. I’m abstracting realism.”

Pair of Native American portrait drawings, one depicting a sitting woman with boldly colored, asymmetrically abstract background; the other of a standing man in large, trailing feather headdress amidst a striped and similarly bright-colored background.
Chris Pappan, Divine Weaver 1 and Divine Weaver 2, Pencil / graphite (mixed media) on railroad ledger, 15"h x 10"w (each)

‘The Motion of Breathing,’ presents over 20 new pieces of ledger art in Pappan’s distinctive style, including a collection of drawings on antique railroad ledgers, and a series of large format, mixed-media pieces on gold standard Rives BFK paper.

Stern faced portrait drawing of a Native American, standing and holding an axe loosely across their front, and an bold abstract background including string dangling from yellow cross shapes and a gold leaf border
Chris Pappan, Scars of History 1, Pencil / graphite (mixed media) on railroad ledger, 15"h x 10"w
Drawing of a young and pensive Native American, seated with a decorated stick; profile outline is red- and blue-shifted
Chris Pappan, Untitled 1, Pencil / graphite and colored pencil on Rives BFK, 19"h x 13"w

“As in historical examples of ledger art, the image takes precedence in my work, but I still attempt to preserve the essence of the ledger. The sections intended to separate and categorize information now work to distort my figures. I appropriate the ledger’s grid pattern and use it to test the boundaries that define the genre.”

Cross-egged and nude, deer-headed woman with arms up in prayerful pose, amidst a gold-leaf, circle motif background and strip of leaping deer silhouettes; details of the original ledger paper appear strongly through the art
Chris Pappan, Miⁿ Oⁿbà Sabé (Eclipse), Pencil / graphite (mixed media) on Odd Fellows Ledger, 17"h x 12"w
Chris Pappan, Miⁿ Oⁿbà Sabé (Eclipse), Pencil / graphite (mixed media) on Odd Fellows Ledger, 17"h x 12"w

By reframing historical imagery and repurposing the materials of the past, Chris Pappan’s visual language advances crucial discourse on contemporary Native art. Each of his pieces in ‘The Motion of Breathing’ breathes new life into conventional notions of cultural identity and artistic lineage, urging us to take on fresh perspectives of our shared past, the dynamic present, and the unfolding future.

See all of Chris Pappan's works HERE


More posts