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Benjamin Harjo, Jr.

Absentee Shawnee

“My creations draw inspiration from many sources like my life experiences, history, and legends of many nations, oral traditions, and an ability to see the deeper details and patterns in nature.”

Artist Statement

I was born in Clovis, NM in 1945, but from age 10 I was raised by my Seminole grandparents on their farm outside Byng, OK. Comic books were my first artistic inspiration as a very young child. I taught myself to draw from Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life. In 1963 at 17 years old, at the Indian clinic in Shawnee, OK I found a brochure about an art school named the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. I determined that I wanted to go there to study cartooning. 

Upon my arrival at IAIA, I found that they discontinued the cartooning program. Disappointed but not deterred, I stayed and studied painting, printmaking, color design and drawing under Seymour Tubis, who became a mentor and lifelong friend. Tubis taught me how to carve woodblocks and create hand-pulled prints, which is still the printmaking technique I prefer to use today. In printmaking I found freedom and experimentation; I began to see texture and pattern in everything. 

After graduating at IAIA in 1966 and a tour in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, I eventually attended Oklahoma State University where I studied under J. Jay McVicker and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  Since graduating in 1974, I have been working as a self-employed, self-promoting artist. Since at least 1982, I’ve been able to make a living, however meager, solely as an artist. I married my wife, Barbara in 1982, and we live in Oklahoma City.

My creations draw inspiration from many sources like my life experiences, history, and legends of many nations, oral traditions and an ability to see the deeper details and patterns in nature. The biggest inspiration, however, comes from growing up and developing a career among previous generations of artists who helped pave the way many of us walk today. I have always been encouraged by their talent and determina on,  and I pay my respects by following their advice, hoping that through their lessons learned I may encourage and inspire those who come after me.

My use of primary colors, geometric designs, and patterns has long informed my work style and developed images that allow experimentation. My artwork mainly incorporates three techniques—drawing, painting, and woodblock printmaking. With these techniques, I employ the mediums of pen and ink, opaque watercolors, and acrylics. However, my artwork is in no way limited to these mediums or techniques.

Involvement in my community manifests itself through speaking about art and holding demonstrations to school children of all races. It also means participating in art markets and engagement in the artistic community by meeting my peers and appreciating what they are creating, encouraging the younger generation of artists to create from their hearts and experiences. Although I am a Vietnam era combat veteran, I prefer to focus more on my elder status and my unique position to be able to bring attention on to the growth I see so that our art does not become static but pushes the boundaries of creative expression for the future.