For Poteet Victory, whose Native-inspired contemporary art provides a surprising complement to traditional Western and Santa Fe-style homes, the act of creating the right piece for the right place could not be more rewarding.
Interior design commissions are not the ambition of many artists. But for Poteet Victory, whose Native-inspired contemporary art provides a surprising complement to traditional Western and Santa Fe-style homes, the act of creating the right piece for the right place could not be more rewarding. “To attach an ego to it is ridiculous,” Victory says of his ability. “Art is a gift; it is flowing through you.”
Victory’s natural talent was recognized at an early age by Harold Stevenson, one of the foremost figures of the modern pop art movement. Stevenson, whose abstract expressionism first shocked the New York art scene in the 1950s and ’60s alongside Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jackson Pollock, happened to hail from a small town called Idabel, Oklahoma. Which is where he discovered an eager young protégé by the name of Robert Poteet.
The young Poteet was greatly influenced by his paternal grandmother, Willie Victory, a full-blooded Choctaw-Cherokee Indian, and grew up working on a ranch and riding bulls and horses bareback at the rodeo. “You couldn’t put a gun to my head now and make me do that, but at the time, I didn’t have money for a good horse or calves, so that’s what I did,” he recalls. Later in life he learned to appreciate his hardscrabble heritage, adopting his grandmother’s last name, and her sense of self-discipline, as his own. “I’m a perfectionist,” he says with pride. “That’s what happens when you’re potty trained with a pistol.”
Victory first left Oklahoma after Stevenson encouraged him to study at The Art Students League of New York, where artists from Georgia O’Keeffe to Norman Rockwell have honed their skills. “It was a good basis,” Victory reflects, “but it’s not where I learned to paint like I do now.” The school focused on realism, while Victory’s work has become progressively abstract, moving away from obvious Native references to a more ethereal style. “As time went on, I started dropping out imagery. I was attracted to color and surface.” His art often appears to be painted on metal, but the smooth, reflective quality is actually created through the application of varnishes he creates himself and by sanding the painting between each coat. “You get a depth to a painting that you can’t get any other way,” he says.
It is this unique quality that draws homeowners to commission pieces from the now Santa Fe-based artist. “[One couple] came to me with a specific place where they needed a painting,” Victory shares. “I sat down with them and did preliminary sketches. About 30 percent of my work is created this way.” In this instance, the piece needed to be designed for an entrance hall with a long, slender, antique Chinese table. The hallway featured large windows that framed a mountain range, so Victory painted the bottom of his piece black and used his trademark shine to great effect. “You can see the mountains reflected in the painting,” he points out. “It’s perfect for this spot, [which is] so gratifying.”
Hanging in the den above a red leather sofa, Victory’s distinct color block painting, enigmatically titled PL NWMN (read Paul Newman, of Butch Cassidy fame), brings together the otherwise eclectic collection of Indian and Western artifacts by highlighting three hues they all have in common. Part of a series of what Victory calls “abbreviated portraits,” the painting was inspired by text messages. “No one spells out the whole word, and yet we know what they are saying. I thought, If you can do that with a word, you can do that with an image. It’s more interesting because your mind is filling in the painting and completing the picture.”
Destroying the myth that modern art and artifacts do not mix, the owners of this home have created an enticing place to relax. “We’re starting to see a modernized structure of the traditional Western home,” Victory says. “My work and that type of home are tailor-made for each other. Besides,” he winks, “soon my paintings will be just another piece of history.”
• McLarry Modern, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 505.983.8589, www.mclarrymodern.com
• Primavera Gallery, Ojai, California, 805.646.7133, www.primaveraart.com
• M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 918.748.8700, www.madorangallery.com