Born in Breckenridge, Minnesota, Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) is equal parts German, French, and Luiseno, a California Mission Tribe. Scholder’s paternal grandmother was a member of the Luiseno tribe and his father was a school administrator for the Bureau of Indian affairs. This job caused Scholder to move frequently throughout his childhood. Although Scholder never considered himself an Indian, his abstract art and use of bold colors, surrealism and pop art portrayed his unique vision of the Southwestern landscape and lifestyle, making him known as a leader of the New American Art Movement.
After graduating from high school in 1957, Scholder’s family moved to Sacramento, California where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sacramento State University. During these years, Scholder was first exposed to the Pop Art movement by Wayne Theibaud and who helped him with his first solo exhibition. In 1961, he was invited to participate in the Rockefeller Indian Art Project and also earned a scholarship to Southwest Indian Art Project at the University of Arizona, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. Scholder began teaching painting and art history from 1964-1969 and realized that his students were struggling to move past the “romantic cliche” when portraying American Indians. This is what began one of his most impactful and controversial series on Native Americans in his Indian Series. Considering himself a “colorist” over everything, his paintings always began as an experiment of color. His brushstrokes are swift and tone is somber and surreal. He was one of the first artists to include non-traditional items in his paintings such as beer cans, American flags, cats and dogs. His “abstract expressionism” showed a different side of the Native American, allowing viewers to see the “real Indian” by breathing life into the painting showing their human struggles and also sometimes humor.
After teaching, Scholder traveled to Europe and North Africa. In addition to painter and “colorist,” Scholder also produced sculptures, prints and photography, typically always working in series. His work is in dozens of museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, published in multiple books, and featured in two PBS documentaries. Even after his death in 2005, his work has only gained more interest and he continues to influence many generations of Native American artists.