The highly acclaimed artist Harry Fonseca (1946-2006) redefined Native American artwork in incorporating humor, and sophistication in his imagery. Refusing to follow the status quo, the nature of Fonseca's work changed dramatically throughout his career. Fonseca earned his MFA in painting from California State University, Sacramento.
His father, a janitor, and his mother, a housewife, were unsupportive of his seemingly impractical endeavor to become an artist, though their preferences did not seem to impact Harry. His earliest works (approx. 1970-1978) revolved around his Maidu heritage, featuring dancers, basketry and the creation myth. Toward the end of this period in his life and work, Fonseca -- seeking multiculturalism -- moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1978.
His work then took another shift toward mythology in 1979 when the subject of his works turned toward the Coyote Trickster. Aside from a brief interlude during which he stopped, Fonseca painted this subject on and off throughout most of his career. But this was not enough for Harry who soon launched into his "Stone Poems". Inspired by rock art, Fonseca sought to make use of these massive pieces for self-expression. Later, Fonseca's art took a darker tone, portraying the cruelty displayed toward Native Americans. His "Discovery of Gold and Souls in California" series -- subtly depicting the devastation of Native American culture in California -- featured a gold leaf cross surrounded by black and red oxide.
Fonseca ended his artistic career with yet another radical shift come his "Stripes" series. Seeking an ultra-minimalist approach, these works incorporate both patterns of a Navajo Chief's blanket and the painting drip technique made popular in the 1950s. Fonseca's many transitions throughout his career developed his reputation as a dynamic artist. Even today, Fonseca's work has an enormous impact on Native American artworks. Prior to his death in 2006, Fonseca donated much of his work to the Heard Museum in Arizona.