Painting: Man with Eagle, acryllic on canvas, 2007.
(This article was originally published on the ONABEN website, January 2008. For more information on Indianprenuership, see www.onaben.org)
Indianpreneur of January!
Dr. Az Carmen
The Indianprenuer for January is Dr. Az Carmen, an artist who paints and draws on canvas, leather, and things that have been left around the house for "too long." Her three-dimensional work includes dolls made from either cornhusks or cloth, including a new series called "Boarding School Dolls," and rawhide masks her Grandma taught her to make. In the future she would like to explore painting murals. In the following interview, Az describes the unique challenges of selling Native American artwork and her overnight transformation into a painter ten years ago.
Dr. Carmen has always been creative, but never took on art as a business full-time until two years ago when she finished her doctorate.
What inspired going out on a limb and starting your own business?
Really, I don't think of myself as a business person but as an artist who sells her work. I earned a doctorate and found along the way that there was something missing; even though I was successful in my professional life, I always wanted to try and see if I could make a living through selling my art. I have found it is tough to be an artist without a supportive spouse. I really identify with the joke that goes: What does an artist need? A husband with a good paying job! I am blessed to have a wonderfully supportive man in my life who understands how important what I am doing is to me.
What's most challenging for you as a business owner?
The most challenging part of business for me is that to get into really good shows you are asked for a bio and resume that clearly indicates your work has been legitimized as acceptable by "fine art" galleries. I find this to be really problematic and in discussion with other Indian artists find that they too see this as a problem as well. Sometimes our work verges on what some galleries would identify as craft or even work by "outsiders". Funny, I never felt like an outsider until I was told I was one. Now I work with Indian-friendly galleries and sell at shows where the expectation is to view and perhaps buy legitimate Native American art work.
What are your plans for the future? How would you like to grow?
My plans for the future are to continue to create more work and see who I am becoming as an artist. I would like to sell at the open show for Indian Arts and Crafts Association, of which I am a member, and get into several more galleries . . . I would like to have my own work accepted and appreciated as art by an indigenous person.
What's special about your business?
My business is based on the gift of a talent that I received when I was very ill and was told by the doctor not to expect to recover my full health and energy. On one very bad day I woke up and thought, "I can draw." The next day I woke up and thought, "I can paint." Oddly enough, I had never painted before and my claim to being able to draw anything was limited to five sided stars and strangely articulated stick figures! As a result, I thank God everyday for my abilities and know that because they are a gift I have to approach the artwork in a reverent manner. The "specialness" about my business is that everything I create is blessed by a miracle.
I also paint upside down and with two hands! No kidding!