Interview: Expressive Paintings of Native Americans in Authentic Dress

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

Artist Jeremy Winborg is known for his expressive paintings that pair palette knife backdrops with lifelike subjects. Rendered in a distinctive style, these energetic portrayals feature iconography that ranges from local landscapes to religious figures. In addition to reimagining these regularly revisited themes, Winborg has recently turned his attention toward creating eye-catching Native American portraits.

This ongoing series of oils features portrayals of young women and girls in traditional Native American dress. While the backgrounds are composed of colorful abstractions, the subjects are painted in realistic detail that draws attention to their spirited faces and exquisite clothing.

When creating each piece, Winborg pays particular attention to the figure's regalia, conducting in-depth research to ensure that his representations are as authentic as possible. This approach has culminated in a collection of awe-inspiring paintings that “preserve a bit of history on each canvas.”

We recently had the chance to speak with Winborg about this ongoing series of oils and his celebrated practice in general. Read on to learn about the inspiration behind his signature aesthetic, choice in subject matter, diligent research methods, and more.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

As a lifelong painter, how has your work changed over time? Have portraits always been your speciality?

My dad was an illustrator and he worked from home so I was constantly around artwork during my childhood. I painted whenever I wasn’t playing with toys or climbing trees.

I started painting seriously when I was 15 years old. I painted a large, wild acrylic of the Smithsonian castle. The state of Utah education department saw it and bought it. It ended up hanging in the Capitol Building in Washington DC for a month and every teacher in Utah was given a print of it. That was the first painting I made. It was a huge success. So, I continued to paint large, wild acrylics during my teen years.

At 22, I got married and started a family that I had to support so I began to paint what I thought people wanted. My dad had an art show in a gallery in Washington DC and the owner of that gallery told me that portraits don’t sell and that I should continue with landscapes. My landscapes were well-received and I was able to support my wife and five kids for over a decade painting local scenes in Utah and historic pieces.  I liked to paint landscapes, but wasn’t super excited about them. I really wanted to do something different, and I was drawn to portraiture.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

Your portraits feature a unique blend of realism and abstraction. How did you develop this aesthetic?

To tell you the truth, I just got super bored of creating the realistic backgrounds. I seemed to spend more time on those and stressed out about them more than the actual figures and it wasn’t fun. Now, I have fun with what I’m doing and I really enjoy it. I really love the juxtaposition of the realism with the abstraction.

In what ways do your paintings of Native Americans “preserve a bit of history?”

All of my paintings feature Native Americans wearing traditional, authentic native clothing. I do a lot of research and consult historians to make sure I get it right.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

Is it difficult to assure that the dress is as genuine as possible? What research goes into each painting?

I have a great source for the clothing. It is a couple that dedicates their whole life to the history of the American West. I consult them with any questions I have. They actually make all of their own museum-quality replica clothing. They make them the traditional ways with traditional materials; when they use a buckskin, they’ll actually tan the leather themselves. They do all their own beadwork, they use real animal sinew and shells and hooves and pelts. They do really incredible work and you can see that authenticity in my paintings.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

In addition to Native American subjects, what else inspires your work?

I live in a really beautiful part of the country. I am close to Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone and also southern Utah and all the national parks there in the desert. I get a lot of inspiration from those scenes. Often times I’ll be driving down the road and have to pull over and photograph a house or a building or a cloud or the way the light is hitting a tree. I always have my camera with me and I’m constantly inspired by nature.

Plus, I’m always on the lookout for potential models that have a lot of character in their faces. I try not to be too awkward but, I’ve had many instances where I’ve gone up to people and said “hey, I’m an artist, would you be interested in modeling for me?”  I actually photographed an eighty-year-old man on a beach while on vacation in Hawaii. I find inspiration everywhere.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

We look forward to seeing more of your paintings! Any upcoming plans or projects?

I will be at The Collector’s Rendezvous in Montana in May. It’s a three-day event where collectors and artists meet together for painting demos, a forum to speak with the artists, and information for collectors about auctions, buying, and collecting. They only invite four artists and I’m honored to be invited.

I also plan on continuing to paint, have art in galleries, and enter different shows throughout the nation. The best way to stay up to date is to sign up for my newsletter on my website.

Native American Portraits Native American Dress Jeremy Winborg Art

Jeremy Winborg: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Jeremy Winborg.

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
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