Originally featured in Points West magazine in Winter 2009
Neil “Tall Eagle” Parsons’s Red Bull Mask
Artwork from the American West includes many diverse styles; the Center of the West’s collection ranges from Charles Russell’s classic cowboy paintings to Neil “Tall Eagle” Parsons’s abstracted images. Parsons’s painting Red Bull Mask is inspired by a traditional Plains Indian mask shaped like a buffalo bull’s head. The curved, blue lines across the top represent a bull’s horns, and the blue circles resemble eyes and nostrils. Tribal colors, nature motifs, and symmetry found in traditional Native American artwork influenced Parsons, a member of the Blackfeet Nation.
To create Red Bull Mask, Parsons painted and dripped acrylic paint on one side of the paper. Then he folded the paper in half, reproducing a mirror image on the other side, and creating a symmetrical abstract painting. Parsons believes his work is related to traditional Native American arts, such as beadwork. In his words, “Abstract beadwork speaks the same language as abstract painting.”
By combining a modern, abstract image with traditional Plains Indian art, Parsons shows how contemporary Native Americans absorb influences from modern culture while still maintaining their individual cultural identity.
Neil “Tall Eagle” Parsons (b. 1938). Red Bull Mask, 2008. Acrylic on paper. Gift of the artist. 45.09