Sean Chandler (Aaniiih) presents his first solo exhibition at a Montana museum and first significant exhibition in over a decade through Aug. 8 at the Missoula Art Museum. His work infuses experiences from his childhood in Eastern Montana, including his love of Major League Baseball, and the history of Native assimilation into white culture. He also blends in teachings from his father, Al Chandler, who grew up at an Indian Residential School near Pierre, SD, and was later the focus of a 1983 PBS documentary short called “I’d Rather Be Powwowing.”
“Once in the mode to create, I like to just let the work take me where I’m supposed to go,” says the artist of his fluid, intuitive approach to painting.
Chandler grew up in Glendive, and his family was among the only Native families in the community. He received his bachelor’s in art and master’s in Native Studies at Montana State University in Bozeman. He later earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Montana while employed as director of American Indian Studies at Aaniiih Nakoda College on Fort Belknap Agency in Harlem. Chandler was promoted to president of the college in August 2020.
After a nearly 12-year hiatus, Chandler returned to creating art in 2018 and joined the artist collective Paintallica. His pieces range from oil, acrylic, paint stick, and charcoal on large canvases to drypoint prints and drawings. He cites Blackfeet artist Ernie Pepion (1943–2005), Salish Kootenai artist Corwin Clairmont, and Bozeman-based artist Jay Schmidt as mentors.
Chandler has received awards and exhibited at the Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, with work collected by the Museum of Natural History in Paris and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Museum.
“Often, parts of the painting that seemed to be the best expressions turn out to be better by covering them up. Maybe that is due in part to me, covering myself, layer by layer,” he writes of his work. “More likely, however, it is a line formed by my own contemporary experiences in mainstream society connected to the years endured by ancestral experiences of dehumanization, racism, and cultural genocide.”
Sean Chandler: New Works is on view at MAM from May 7 to Aug. 8 in the Lynda M. Frost Gallery of Contemporary American Indian Art, a space dedicated to perpetually exhibiting contemporary Native artists.