Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 15, 2000 - Issue 14

Jerome Tiger
Creek-Seminole Artist

Jerome Tiger was a full blood Creek-Seminole, born in 1941 in Oklahoma. He grew up on the campgrounds that surrounded his grandfather's Indian Baptist church near the sleepy town of Eufaula. There and, later, in Muskogee he attended public schools, learned English, and became familiar with such marvels of white culture as running water, indoor toilets, and telephones. Tiger was a high school dropout, a street and ring fighter of exceptional ability, and a laborer. He married and had three children. And, he died in 1967, at the age of twenty-six, of an accidental gunshot wound. Tiger's legacy was his paintings: a body of work of exquisite beauty that revolutionized American Indian art.

The success and genius of Tiger's art can be attributed to what was called the Tiger style--a unique combination of spiritual vision, humane understanding, and technical virtuosity. In subject matter and composition, his art was traditional. In every other respect, it was a radical departure from classical Indian art.

When Tiger began painting in the 1960's, few, if any, artists could make a living in Indian art. With little formal training and against all odds, he committed himself to Indian art, and from 1962 until 1967, produced hundreds of paintings that from the outset received the acclaim of critics, won awards, and brought him success and recognition. The average Indian art buyer of the 1960's was unduly critical, ready to find fault with the quality of a piece of work or the authenticity of its details. To be popular with such an audience, not only did Tiger have to be technically competent but inventive and prolific.

Tiger's uncanny ability to draw virtually anything after only a momentary glance has led critics to refer to him as the Rembrandt or Goya of Indian art. This is quite a lofty comparison particularly since Tiger had no formal training and had never seen the work of the masters with whom he was compared. But characteristic of all great art, Tiger's work had universal appeal. Its beauty and deep spirituality spoke to people of all races, not just Native Americans.

Since his death, Tiger's style has had a tremendous influence on the Indian artists that have succeeded him. One art critic commented--"Wherever there are Indian paintings today, Tiger's influence can be felt." With almost unanimous agreement, Native American artists credit Jerome Tiger with being the major influence in the development of contemporary Indian art. Tiger was an artist's artist.



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