At first glance, you’re so struck by the incredible detail and authenticity that you might assume that Sattler’s primary objective is to create a historically accurate portrayal of his subject. Wrong. Although he is meticulous about creating a true-to-life depiction of the clothing, artifacts and cultural traditions of the Northern Plains Native Americans, Sattler is more concerned with capturing a sense of spirituality and reverence. The work of Kirby Sattler is fueled by an inherent interest in the indigenous Peoples of the Earth.
His current images evolve from history, ceremony, mythology, and spirituality of the Native American. Sattler’s ultra detailed interpretations examine the inseparable relationship between the Indian and his natural world, reflecting a culture that had no hard line between the sacred and mundane. Each painting functions on the premise that all natural phenomena have souls independent of their physical beings.
Under such a belief, the wearing of sacred objects was a source of spiritual power. Any object – a stone, a plait of sweet grass, a part of an animal, the wing of a bird, could contain the essence of the metaphysical qualities identified to the objects and desired by the Native American. The acquisition of “Medicine” or spiritual power was central to lives of the Indian. It provided the conduit to the unseen forces of the universe.
The artist states, “I attempt to give the viewer of my work a sense of what these sacred objects meant to the wearer; when combined with the proper ritual or prayer there would be a transference of identity. More than just aesthetic adornment, it was an outward manifestation of their identity and their inter-relatedness with their natural world.”
Sattler has developed his painting into a distinctive style of realism, the methodology involves the painstaking layering of multiple underpaintings with transparent washes. This technique results in canvases that are rich in defined textures and surfaces becoming more of a window than a piece of opaque fabric. “People will come up to a painting and actually touch the canvas, thinking the feather is going to move,” he says. With the tediousness of each work, he produces a very limited number of paintings each year.
Although his familiarity with the Northern Plains tribes might suggest to some that Sattler is a Native American, his lineage is strictly European. Originally from Wisconsin, his family moved to Colorado when he was 2 when the traditions and history of Native American still very much a part of the character of the American West. Sattler says their influences permeated his world from an early age. As he began to learn about the values of the Native American culture through visual art, music and dance his fascination intensified. Sattler has managed to achieve his unique style without much formal art education. He attended Arizona State University for a year but quickly realized that he didn’t want to learn to paint in another person’s style. After an accident in the early 1980’s Sattler worked as a caretaker on a ranch. Virtually alone on the ranch without the distractions of urban living, he spent every spare moment painting and, in turn, discovered his calling in life. “I finally got to know who I really was,” he says. “I found that I truly loved to paint.”