Kay WalkingStick: Deconstructing the Tipi

16 March - 27 April 2024 New York

Hales is delighted to announce Deconstructing the Tipi, a solo exhibition by Kay WalkingStick. This second solo show of WalkingStick's work at the New York gallery exhibits important historic painting and drawing from the mid-1970s, pinpointing some of her earliest forays into abstraction.


WalkingStick (b. 1935 Syracuse, NY) is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and has Cherokee/Anglo heritage. She lives and works in Pennsylvania. WalkingStick is included in the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, opening 20 April 2024. Her solo exhibition, Kay WalkingStick / Hudson River School, is currently on view at the New-York Historical Society through 14 April 2024.      


Deconstructing the Tipi presents work from 1974-1978, a period of galvanizing self-discovery that spans WalkingStick's time at Pratt Institute in New York, where she received her MFA in 1975, and the years that immediately followed. The prominence of second-wave feminism and the American Indian movement, founded in 1968, acted as a backdrop to this time of her life, amplifying WalkingStick's already growing interest in indigenous American histories and her own Cherokee heritage. It was during this moment that her practice moved more fully into abstraction, influenced by what was happening in the art community in New York at that time, developing dynamic ways of experimenting with process, medium and form.   


A pivotal piece for WalkingStick, Tepee Form (1974) was one of the first paintings to directly engage with her indigenous heritage through using the iconic symbol of the tipi as a formal and signifying tool. The work followed on from a sculptural tipi made the same year, Messages to Papa (1974) which WalkingStick created to reconcile her feelings towards her late father. In Tepee Form the material of the tipi is depicted as though draped on a network of strings; the delicate lines intersecting with a grid in the top corners of the work. She employed a process of pouring paint to first stain the canvas and subsequently painted a color field of green and red which interacts with an exacting grid. Abstracting the representation of the tipi to present an ambiguous form allowed WalkingStick to push beyond literal interpretation and towards a deep engagement with modernism.  


In the paintings that followed Tepee Form, WalkingStick distilled elements of the arcs of the draped tipi, progressing the form to a simplified, bowed rectangle. Compositionally consistent, the paintings on both canvas and paper explored the relationship between medium and form in new experimentations with ink, acrylic and adding wax - creating a thicker, sensuality of surface, which she would continue to explore in later abstractions. An important series of untitled paintings on paper from 1974 offered WalkingStick one of her first opportunities to use wax in the acrylic paint, which she layered over poured ink. In a process of both covering and uncovering a geometry brings to the fore a complex relationship between positive and negative space.  


It was important to WalkingStick that the process and methodology by which these works were made was visible or suggested, clearly demonstrated in the palimpsest of lines and notations made in charcoal in earlier layers of Painting For Me (1975), one of the largest canvases from this period. Fear of Non-Being and Archetypal Image (1975) effectively explore the picture plane, the inner rectangle both anchored to and overlapping scored lines, moving in front and behind of the grid creating a spatial interplay. Although these paintings address the increasingly abstract nature of the works, 'the striated quality of the ink evoke landscapes, cloudscapes, or even representational forms such as hides.' [1]  


In a dedicated series of charcoal works on paper she achieved a dense black color field, one with a smooth finish, by applying great pressure on darker black semi circles and lines of pigment. [2] Reducing the palette to an exploration of the expressive qualities of black, WalkingStick created a focus on form which tested the limits of the grid. Partially concealed but remaining present underneath the surface, WalkingStick noted 'I want the grid to be sensed.' [3] By further isolating the arc WalkingStick had singled out an element which would become a reoccurring motif for the decade ahead.  


WalkingStick's works are held in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; New-York Historical Society, NY; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian, Washington DC; Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo, NY; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD;  Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Detroit Institute of Arts, MI;  Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA;  Denver Art Museum, CO; Saint Louis Art Museum, MO; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS; and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.    


WalkingStick has been included in many exhibitions, including The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian, Washington DC; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR;  Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis, IN; Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ; Montclair Art Museum, NJ;  Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Kalamazoo Institute of Art, MI; Dayton Art Institute, OH; Heard Museum, Phoenix, AR; National Gallery of Canada, ON; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; and Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT.


WalkingStick was a Professor of Fine Arts at Cornell University from 1988 until her retirement as a Professor Emerita in 2005.  



[1] Morris, K. Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist, 2015, p62  

[2] ibid, p69  

[3] ibid   

Installation Views