One of the tensions NextGen Natives experience, I believe, is whether your work faces outward to the broader world or inward towards Indian Country. By focusing on efforts that face outward, your goal is to broaden the exposure of Indian Country to others, to educate, to transcend. Efforts inward may focus on addressing an issue, or empowering, etc. but perhaps with little support or focus from outside Indian Country. John Pepion is currently straddling both, and may be on the cusp of getting BIG.
John Pepion is a member of the Blackfeet Nation. He grew up in Birch Creek on the reservation. John is a young ledger artist. His work is captivating and incorporates both traditional scenes one expects from ledger art, and contemporary scenes captured in a familiar medium. I came across John Pepion after someone retweeted a blog post written about John’s work. This wasn’t just any blog, it was Instragram’s blog. As a fan of ledger art I dove into his Instragram account. I reached out to him to be on the podcast. He agreed and we had a great conversation.
Yakima Men Fishing The Columbia 2015 (custom order) @merrilie_g #pepionledgerart A photo posted by John Isaiah Pepion (@johnisaiahpepion) on
The story of John Pepion is one that touches on many familiar themes from the podcast. He got into trouble as a teenager. His mom send him around to live with other family to stay out of trouble. Looking back on it, he realized he had and maintains to this day a strong support network.
John floated around after earning his GED. He attended United Tribes Technical College and focused on art, but did not take it seriously. Later he applied to the Institute for American Indian Art after some encouragement. Though he was accepted, he did not attend at first. Eventually he did, and it was his last year in school when he started to dabble in ledger art. But it wasn’t until 2009, after a car accident, that he really found his passion for his art. It became his way of avoiding depression while recovering from his injuries. After that, it seemed all he did was diver deeper into his work. Even then he did not like to call himself an artist. He began selling pieces at home for $5 while in college, but eventually found he could make his living off his art, even if it took long hours and a lot of hustle. But his work is more than just his business. He volunteers at schools with kids and at recovery centers. He shows people how to use art for their own personal benefit.
Jackson Sun Down 2015 #pepionledgerart #blackfeetledgerart #contemporaryledgerart #ledgerart #pedletonroundup A photo posted by John Isaiah Pepion (@johnisaiahpepion) on
John’s story shows that even if you don’t know what you want to do, find yourself in some trouble you can still find the right path for you. It is never too late to focus. And in John’s case, his passion also kept him from sliding back into trouble.
It’s awesome to see a Native artist getting attention from Indian Country and beyond. I expect he will continue to put out amazing art that can be appreciated by anyone.
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