Dan: Where are you from, Jerry?
Jerry: Well, I’m practically from here. I’ve been here since the 70’s. Initially, I grew up North, outside of Chamberlain, on Crow Creek reservation there.
And have you lived downtown here or-
Geez. Being the nomad I am, I’ve lived everywhere in this town.
Do you have a recollection of what downtown was like, art scene wise back in the day? Was it existent, nonexistent?
Pretty much nonexistent. I mean, back when I moved here, 41st St. was the end of town. There was nothing on that side of 41st St. I wasn’t really involved that much in the arts when I first moved here. It was mostly trial and survival tactics. Trying to pay bills and everything else, find work, and stay alive. As time went on, I have discovered that it’s come a long way, though, in its own right. Since the 70’s, there is a lot more involvement in art businesses, galleries, constructive people and such than there was back then. A lot of businesses are opening their doors, allowing artwork to come in and be presented.
I feel like if you are an artist and you wanted to go into a business years ago, you were almost kind of looked at like an oddball. It’s kind of like, you want to do what? You wanna put that where?Coffee shops have always been around, but within the last five, ten years with generation X and millennials that are hanging out at coffee shops…that’s how you conduct business, and also sell your business, too.
Exactly. It also gives the proprietor a little bit more of a draw to certain people who want to come and see artwork.
So, tell me, education wise, did you go to school for art, or is it kind of self-taught?
I went to school for art, but basically it still turned out to be self-taught. It always ended up that way. I was always rebellious. I’ve always wanted to do a certain style of art, a certain type of art. My mind was set on that. And when somebody else…an art teacher or somebody…was trying to teach me something else…“Oh, okay, alright.”
So tell me, what drives you to create art? What inspires you?
My culture. Native American. I try to prove myself as…long ago I used to sing and dance as Native American to prove myself, and as I got older and moved into a bigger city where it wasn’t really that much of a genre anymore, I had to turn to something to still maintain that I am Native American. Just seemed like the artwork was, not the easiest, but the best way to do it because it brought forth the subject that I was trying to get across. Doing Native American oriented art, people look at it and say, “Wow, this guy’s Native American.” And when they see me, then it’s a whole different story. “You did this?” Blue eyed and light skin, they don’t think you’re Native. “We thought you’d be brown skin, with long brown hair.”
I can maybe hear it a little bit in the voice, though.
You never get rid of that accent.
How often do you create your art?
Not answering your question, I can say as much as possible. I do try to get stuff out there. Right now, the kind of artist I am, I’m working with storytelling. That storytelling from culture and legends and stories of our people…there’s so much of it, and I try to work with that as much as I can. But I also like to hop on the bandwagon of what’s going on right now.
Exactly, the pipeline. And anything else that goes on. The land grabbing, or accomplishing certain spiritual feelings and ceremonies, and everything else that goes on. Like, Good Earth, Blood Run, that’s kind of going on right now. Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum; I had to be part of that. That’s one of the big stories. Just things that go on today. I try to push that artwork out there, and get something done to represent that I am knowledgeable of it, and part of it.
Do you find that when you direct attention to events like that, do you feel like it brings more of the public eye to it?
Exactly. It’s me trying to put the word out. Like when they were trying to find funding for Blood Run, and buy the land and stuff, I was putting together pieces of art that people would come to see and talk about that, and I would tell them [about it]. And all of a sudden it came to be, “Get out the checkbook. If you aren’t going to buy my piece, donate to them, the purpose.” And it works! Unbelievably, it works.
So, kind of rolling along with creation stuff, do you have a favorite piece? Like when I take photographs, I think at the time that’s the best work I’ve done, then the next thing I do tends to be a little bit better than that. Do you kind of have a favorite?
Well, as an artist you’re always trying to make that ultimate piece. It’s never there, but you keep trying and trying. Just like a photographer, he’s looking for that ultimate shot. But yeah, I’ve gotten several pieces that I stand back, and I look at, and I hated to let go. But you got to. I wouldn’t be able to actually point my finger and say this one’s my best. In the majority of my personal experience, I’ve got a full amount that I really, really like. Still, at the back of my mind I’m hoping to come out with that one that blows them all away.
You’re always depending on the public, too. This piece I would say, personally, I like this piece so much, and not so many people like it. But this piece over here, I think is really, really blasé, and everybody likes it. So, you would almost have to consider that as your best piece that you’ve done, because it’s the most successful.
It’s an interesting perspective, too, because often what you perceive as your best work (that you put your heart and soul and blood and tears into) is met with very little reception. Then you put something else out, or somebody else comes along, and says that’s the greatest thing ever seen. And it’s kind of like, are we seeing the same thing? Kind of continuing along with favorites there, do you have a favorite art show?
Down the line, I’ve been to very great art shows. The one that I stick with that is dedicated to me, I feel, as much as I am to it is Augustana Artists of the Plains. It’s my go-to place. I’ve won four out of five years Best of Show. That’s just always been a good show for me. It’s gotten a good reputation out in the city. I have a lot of people who just wait to see what I’ve got up next year.
Talk of the town. That’s a good thing, actually.
Yeah, publicity is always a good thing. And followers are great. Just awesome.
I remember I heard a quote years ago that said, “Passion breeds followers.” So, do you have any favorite materials when it comes to creating art that you like to use?
Leather. Leather is my friend. And just old, traditional things that have been with my ancestors, my people, over many centuries. I try not to reproduce them in that direction, but utilize the image of them. I don’t use plastic. I don’t use fake this or imitation that. All my pictures have original things like bones, actual bone beads. Or if I do a tobacco tie, there’s actual tobacco in there, it’s not just a little rock. And I try to be straightforward that everything is real in my artwork. For instance, like this one here, they call the Pipeline the Black Snake. That’s actually a snake in there. That’s not a fake one, that’s an actual snake. It’s just the way that I am, I’m a stickler for that. If it was arrowheads, it wouldn’t be something that was mass-produced in a factory. It would be actual arrowheads that I’ve searched for, or were given by my people to use and things like that. It just seems like it makes the picture more unique in its own way, and original. Like I always say, every picture is one-of-a-kind. I don’t ever reproduce it.
That’s the thing with art, as well, is that it’s too easy to replicate. Everybody wants a copy of something. Like a poster of the Statue of Liberty or something like that, it’s not the original. I’ve never understood, personally, the need for something that’s replicated over and over.
Well, like a dream catcher. Somebody makes 10,000 dream catchers in a year’s time. And they’re all the same dream catcher. You can go from your house down the block… “Oh, I’ve got one of those in my house! I’ve got one of them, too. The person down the block has one, too.”
I try to stipulate to where when you take this home and hang it on your wall, you aren’t going to go across town or across state and see the same thing hanging on someone else’s wall. It’s just one. That’s kind of what I pride myself in.
Do you have an inspirational quote that kind of gives you a little bit of fire to go out and create art? Or is there a mantra that you, perhaps, live by?
I always tell myself, if I can’t sell it, I’ll give it away. There’s many different people who get me flowing; their artwork, and stuff I’ve lived and learned from. There’s a lot of different people who have talked to me about certain things. But a quote…not really. Not really at all.
Maybe, perhaps, a saying that you maybe say yourself or someone has said to you in years past.
I remember I was in a dart tournament a long time ago, and I can reframe this to art as being in a gallery or being in an art show. They interviewed me one time and asked, “Well, what do you think about all this?” And I just said, “Just proud to be here.” Win, lose, draw, whatever. Just proud to be here.
That’s incredible. Kind of going along with that, do you happen to have any advice for people who want to sell their artwork, or haven’t found a way to sell it?
To me, I can look at something that just makes your eyes cross, but it’s still art. No matter what you want to say about it. No matter if you hate it or you like it, or you love it, or you want to burn it, or whatever. It’s still art, because it comes from somebody trying to say something. I just tell people who are doing really great and beautiful art, you’ve got it, it’s there. Go out and flaunt it. And to those who kind of hold back, try to get your confidence up and go out there. You never know until you try.
What do you find is, perhaps, the hardest part of being an artist?
The hardest part? I think the most difficult is having too many ideas. Too many ideas at once. Like right now, as you and me are sitting here, I got 60 pieces in my mind. I have materials and everything to finish them, and I’m just…gah, what do I do first? And finding the time to do it. That’s one thing…you gotta just take a deep breath and settle down, and just start doing them. Slowly, even. A lot of times I get in my mind, I got to get all 60 of these done, and it just bugs me. It’s probably about the biggest brick wall I could run up against; trying to do too much at once. Sometimes some things don’t come out right when you’re trying to do that.
There’s a quote I heard years ago, and it was from the lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin. Chris was asked, “So, when you listen to your music do you hear flaws, do you hear things that you could have fixed?” He responds by saying, every time I listen to it there’s things that I hear that I wish that I could have done differently. And he goes, once you hand that album over to be finished, you’re done with it. Because I feel that as an artist, the longer you hold onto something…you go, I’ll tweak this, tweak that, and before you know it a month becomes a year and it’s not put out.
Exactly. You’re delaying yourself. One thing I’ve noticed in the city of Sioux Falls here, it really surprises me that when I go from one show that so many people have commented and seen what I got (and I hadn’t made anything different), and I take it and I place it over in another place in town…you’ve got a whole other mass of people who come in that have never seen it. What I’m trying to say is, to anybody that wants to go out there, never fret that what you have won’t go good over in other places. Everybody just doesn’t come over and see your work in town at one show. It happens everywhere.
So, we talked about the hardest thing about being an artist, but tell me, what’s one thing you love about being an artist?
Sitting back and looking at something you just created. It’s not overwhelming, but it does give a euphoria that you feel. Wow, I got this, I did this. And you put it out there, and people do appreciate it as much as you do. That’s what’s really good about it. It’s what makes you feel happy about it, when you think this is good I’ve made this, I’m happy with it. Then you go out and somebody else sees it, and expresses their feelings to you that they like it, too. It’s really good.
What do you love about Sioux Falls?
Sioux Falls is kind of a diverse town, and it’s getting more and more with every year. Like the arts, there’s a lot of people who like the arts; be it music, be it dance, be it orchestra, be it concerts…sports, that’s another one. So, there is a big draw to many outlets. And I think an artist does have a lot of places to present their art, and people come. Maybe 10 to 15 people…and you think that’s not very many…but you keep it up, and you show your stuff in 30 places and there’s been 15 at each. Add that up, you do the numbers, you got a good crowd going.
Or the word-of-mouth, too. Come check out this exhibit, or this piece.
Oh, yeah. And people respond, too, if you have a card or Facebook. You give it to them and you think, oh well they just took it, to heck with it. Then you see them. They do get on Facebook, and look at your stuff. They respond, which is great.
We talked about what you love about Sioux Falls, is there anything that you would do differently with the art community? Things maybe you would change?
What I would like to see done is…if they could possibly get the grant or the money for it somehow…is to build an enormous art center. And don’t make it way out-of-town; put it somewhere where people can get to it. Once it’s done have people run it to where it is Sioux Falls artists, and just have Sioux Falls artists in it.
For the people, by the people.
Yeah, for the people by the people. If you live five miles outside the city limits, sorry. Sorry, get your own.
And have that. And sell and get a percentage off of it to keep the building running. And put 40 artists in there…40, 50, 60 artists. They don’t have to have their whole collection in there. Three, four pieces a piece. They can switch them out, and everything else. Get the tracks really moving, and then get it really exposed to the public and stuff. I think that it would work for the simple reason that people do love the arts.
I mean, that could also double as a performing center for concerts, plays.
Oh, yeah. If it’s a big enough building. See, what I was trying to get away from is like Pavilion and other places, they have like two or three artists that are there for two, three months. Why not have 80 artists with five pieces a piece in there, and have it go permanently back and forth. Grow, or decrease, multiply.
Like a seasonal thing kind of, too.
Yeah. People can create new work, and bring it in, and have it advertised. A new work is at the Sioux Falls Arts…or what ever you want to call it. Keep it to artists who are active, and are still doing artwork right now as we speak.
Kind of wrapping things up here. Do you have any shows coming up?
I’m kind of booked up at least until August 2017.
That’s kind of the way I feel I have to be, because if people say where’s your gallery…I can’t afford a gallery. I can’t afford a studio. I got to keep my artwork out there. The city of Sioux Falls is my studio. That’s what I figure, anyway, because it’s always out there somewhere.
I like that.
One thing I like to try to do is donate. There certain people who like to call me or contact me and want me to donate. I’m all for it. Behavioral health places, Muscular Dystrophy, Children’s Kidney hospital and stuff. I participate with them. I give as much as I can, because I know if I was in trouble…
Do you have any examples of giving someone something like that that has turned their life around or lifted their spirits?
I haven’t really done much for individual people. But Behavioral Health, when they had their auction out there, it was great. You actually see the people who are, not only out there bidding on your artwork, they are out there talking to doctors, psychiatrists and stuff about betterment. Certain cities need places like that, and they need artists and artwork to be a part of that. Music, whatever you have. It’s been successful as far as I know, because I get my foot in the door. It’s always good to donate a piece of artwork to an association that’s 10,000 employees.
You get good exposure.
You get your name out there.
That’s one of the hard projects that I have not really faced, yet. I would have to say within the four, maybe five state area is as far as I’ve gone. I’ve had tourists come through and say, you need to bring this stuff to the coast, or you got to bring this stuff down south. I had one guy, at a show here in town looking for a long time. He said I’m from Santa Fe, and they don’t have nothing like your stuff down there. “You got a bring your stuff down there, but before you do, add a couple zeroes.” All right, sure, sure.
I made a trip over to New York about two weeks ago to photograph a couple who is going to get married back in South Dakota. And you think…that’s a lot of work. But making that trip…you kind of tell people that I was willing to do this, I’m willing to do it again.
That’s one thing that always scares me half to death is taking out every penny I have, and going to a place like Los Angeles, and not selling a thing. But a lot of people say that’s a chance you have to take.
I mean if you’re kind of self analytical, sometimes doubter, maybe a little OCD kind of like me a little bit…it’s easier said than done.
Oh, yeah, it is. The thing of it is, one of these days I am going to take that chance. I’m going to load up and just head out for a month, and hopefully come back empty.
Talking about artwork, not pockets, right?
[laughter] Yeah. If you plan your trip to where you saved up for it, just call it a vacation. And if you sell anything, that’s just gravy.
Jerry’s work can be found on Facebook at Native Soul: Jerry Fogg Tribal Art.